The Barbie Prophesy
On top of all ABC dayparts, Wang’s new role gives her oversight of interactive and Disney/ABC Unlimited, Disney’s cross-platform unit. While her ascension is no small achievement on a personal level, it’s also indicative of a growing trend in the TV business: women assuming powerful negotiating roles in the buying and selling of television ad time.
In fact, one of Wang’s closest friends in the business -- and one of her main competitors -- was a pioneer of sorts. CBS’ JoAnn Ross broke the barrier to become the first woman to oversee a broadcast network sales operation in 2002 after Joe Abruzzese left to helm Discovery Networks ad sales.
Several executives quoted for this story -- Ross, Herbst-Brady, NBC Universal’s Marianne Gambelli, Starcom’s Jackie Kulesza -- further illustrate how far women have come in the TV industry, even if to them it’s not a big issue. As Ross simply states about Wang’s elevation: “The right person got the job, and that person happens to be a woman.”
Adds Gambelli, another competitor as president of network ad sales at NBCU: “It’s wonderful that she’s a woman who rose up to the top spot, but what’s more important is that her promotion was well-earned and well-deserved.”
Negotiators on the other side of the table credit Wang for getting the top stripes on merit. “It’s a testimony to her ability,” explains Kulesza, svp, broadcast activation director at Starcom. “While it’s nice to see a woman promoted to this position, it has little to do with gender. Geri has always done a good job of sizing up the marketplace, and under Geri ABC will continue to be a marketplace leader.”
In a sense, Wang has been preparing for the role all her life. “When I was a little girl and played with Barbie dolls, all of my friends’ dolls were entertainers and models,” she recalls.
“But my Barbie doll was the head of a business. In fact, my mother told me never to learn how to type, so I would never have to type for anybody at work. I have always had a strong identification with self-sufficient women.”
That said, it’s been a long climb for the Ithaca College graduate who started her career as a media research analyst at Grey Advertising in New York after graduating in 1982. It didn’t take long for her to discover it was a man’s world at the time she entered it. In one of her many positions at Grey (she eventually ended up heading the national broadcast group), Wang negotiated deals to buy sports media packages for a particular client, who she doesn’t want to identify. When it was time to meet with that client’s executives in person to go over the terms of the buy, she wasn’t sent with the rest of her team because, well, she was a woman, and women didn’t close sports deals.
“It wasn’t overt sexism,” she muses, feeling far more gracious about it today than she did at the time. “It was just a male-dominated hierarchy at that time that no longer exists at most companies today. Male executives back then were more comfortable dealing with other men.”
Big Shoes to Fill
Chest pounding has become a rite of spring, and this year’s bravado got off to an early start when CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves began telling investors that he would secure double-digit CPM increases in this year’s upfront. While he probably isn’t making JoAnn Ross’ job any easier for her, Moonves’ Mighty Joe Young routine is merely a less subtle take on Mike Shaw’s old playbook.
Shaw’s public pronouncements spoke for the broadcast marketplace as a whole, but the words he exchanged at the upfront table had the greatest impact. He was the standard bearer throughout the commercial-ratings debate, exhorting his industry peers to expand the metric beyond Nielsen’s time-worn overnights. Behind the scenes, Shaw insisted on hashing out a new currency that would credit the nets for seven days of time-shifted viewing, and while live-plus-seven was watered down to C3, he’s still credited for leading the charge on reform. (On his way out, Shaw was still agitated about the compromise, spending a good part of last spring telling anyone who would listen that the industry should shift to C7 at the very least.)
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