It’s an overcast February morning, and Linda Yaccarino’s day begins with a decidedly nontraditional repast of spaghetti and meatballs, a dish she cooks up at the request of the Today show’s resident oenophiles, Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. A recipe that’s been passed down in her family for generations, the red sauce is a particularly good match with a little Chianti, although the president of advertising sales for NBCUniversal begs off on the tendered glass. Undaunted, Gifford and Kotb pepper Yaccarino with questions about the business while merrily tossing back the vino.
Eight hours after the cooking demo—Yaccarino is shooting a series of comic videos with NBCU’s broadcast and cable talent that will be screened at the company’s spring upfront presentations—she’s back in her office in the McGraw-Hill Building, an outpost that stands kitty-corner to 30 Rock. In her first extensive interview since she assumed oversight of all NBCU sales operations in September, Yaccarino says the final pieces of Lego have snapped together.
“The Dream Team is officially in place,” Yaccarino said, referring to a staff that includes evp of cable ad sales Dan Lovinger and Alison Tarrant, a CW convert who now serves as evp of client solutions for the cable entertainment division. “We’re ready to go, we’ll be easier to do business with and we’ve populated the executive team with a lot of big thinkers who are going to market with an unprecedented array of assets.”
No other media company offers the sort of holistic approach to aligning clients and platforms that Yaccarino has devised for NBCU. Essentially, the NBC broadcast network, the suite of cable channels (USA Network, Syfy, Bravo, E!, etc.) and the host of digital properties are vertical units that are informed by a horizontal sales philosophy. “The way we will come to market is really agnostic as to whether it’s broadcast, cable or digital, and that’s what our customers are telling us they want,” Yaccarino said. “We have all this stuff, so it’s almost limitless how we can creatively stitch together our content. And there’s an amplification of the content when the various elements are aligned. They’re stronger together.”
Thus far, media agencies are enthusiastic about Yaccarino’s systemic rehaul. In the past, the rigidity of NBCU’s ad sales strategy was seen as a hindrance to effectively fulfilling clients’ media plans—in walling off broadcast from cable from digital, cross-platform buys often assumed a nettlesome degree of difficulty. “A lot of our clients want to use TV in a way that’s more integrated and doesn’t necessarily differentiate between NBC and the cable networks,” said Alan Cohen, CEO of OMD U.S. “So from that perspective, that single point of focus should really streamline the buying process.”
Cohen said he and other top OMD execs have already engaged in a number of fruitful conversations with Yaccarino and her team. “Personally, I’ve found her to be fantastic to deal with,” he noted. “This all may be like trying to change a tire on a speeding car, but she really is all about reinvention, about doing new things in an environment where it hasn’t always been easy to break away from traditional thinking.”
While it’s too early to draw a bead on the upfront, Yaccarino says she’s optimistic about the strength of the marketplace. Despite the recent downturn at NBC, she says she won’t budge on securing premiums for series that are delivering. “Our customers and thankfully our viewers, too, are rooting for our success,” she said. “When The Voice and Revolution come back [on March 25], they will find their value. We’ll get the price we need to get for those shows.” The same applies for Modern Family, which will premiere on USA Sept. 1. “That’s going to change the face of prime time for USA. So process and math will come into play there. It’s just negotiation between partners and fair value will be achieved.”