Disney–ABC Creates a Portfolio-Wide Ad Sales Division, Taps Disney Evp to Lead It

Networks will present separately at this year's upfront, though

Rita Ferro, who joined Disney Channels Worldwide in 2010, will now oversee all Disney–ABC ad sales.
Disney Channel/Bob D'Amico

Instead of simply filling ABC’s vacant ad sales chief position, Disney–ABC has instead enacted broad changes to its ad sales team, combining sales for its various properties into a single division, much as NBCUniversal, Fox and Turner have done in recent years.

The company has created a portfolio-wide ad sales division, which will be led by Rita Ferro, who previously worked as evp, Disney media sales and marketing for Disney Channels Worldwide.

Ferro, who joined the company in 2010, will oversee all ad sales and ad revenue-generating strategies for Disney–ABC’s entertainment, news and kids businesses in linear, digital and radio, including ABC Entertainment, ABC Daytime, ABC News, Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Radio Disney and Freeform. She’ll also continue to lead the sales team for The Walt Disney Company’s online, mobile and social offerings.

“We have one of the largest creative portfolios in the industry, through all of our brands and content. And the ability to bring that all together, to really make connections with audiences, is really exciting,” said Ferro. “As we think about this client-centric structure, and what it means for our advertisers with a one-stop shop, we can really take the best across Disney ABC and bring them together in ways we haven’t done before.”

Exactly two months ago, ABC’s ad sales chief Geri Wang announced she would be stepping down in March, and retiring after 27 years with the company. Wang, who was No. 9 on last year’s Adweek 50, had led ABC sales since 2010.

But Ben Sherwood, co-chairman of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney Television Group, said he had been planning this bigger shift for almost a year. “We’ve been working on this since last spring, studying the market, our clients and our own organization,” said Sherwood. “We concluded that our platforms combined the best storytelling with the broadest reach and the widest scale, and that it was time to transform our ad sales structure into a one-stop shop that aligns Disney–ABC’s strengths with the reality of the marketplace and what our clients and agencies really want. So this is the right time, right organizations, right brands and right opportunity to be a better, bolder and more successful ad sales organization.”

The new ad sales division will be organized into three teams:

Brand, Revenue and Yield Management will optimize and manage business opportunities across the portfolio. That will be run by Debbie Richman, who was formerly svp, primetime sales for ABC, and is now evp, revenue and yield management for Disney–ABC.

The Client and Audience Solutions team will develop specialized client and category-specific strategies and opportunities across the portfolio’s platforms. That will be run by Laura Nathanson, who was formerly Freeform’s evp of sales and marketing, and will now serve as evp, client and audience solutions for Disney–ABC.

"It was time to transform our ad sales structure into a one-stop shop that aligns Disney–ABC’s strengths with the reality of the marketplace and what our clients and agencies really want."
-Ben Sherwood, co-chairman of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney Television Group

The Sales and Marketing team will work on linear and digital agency advertising opportunities across the company and have an in-house creative agency to make branded content for clients. That will be led by Debra O’Connell, who was formerly president of national TV sales for ABC Owned Stations Group, and is now evp, sales and marketing, Disney–ABC.

“They are the three pillars of our organization and they will anchor exactly what our clients have been asking for from us,” said Ferro. “We haven’t been able to respond to the marketplace at the pace that we should. I think having this one integrated organization will allow us to be a lot more nimble.”

In her new role, Ferro will report to Bruce Rosenblum, president of business operations for Disney|ABC Television. “By setting up these pillars the way we have, with each of these pillars working across brands, that client-centric focus is what we think will take us forward, and allow us to operate not only more efficiently, but with more innovation and more client focus,” said Rosenblum.

Sherwood said the company did not consider including ad sales for ESPN, which is run separately from Disney–ABC, as part of the new structure. “Our thinking was that we need to get our own house better organized for the future and the needs of our clients, and this new structure is right for Disney–ABC,” said Sherwood. “This new arrangement will make it easier for our clients and agencies to explore larger partnerships that include both Disney–ABC and ESPN sales in this new, integrated structure.”

Sherwood said Ferro was “a smart, strategic and inspirational leader who works collaboratively with clients and with colleagues and has created an innovative advertising and sponsorship approach across the portfolio of Disney branded media offerings. She’s a forward-thinker, she is extremely effective and we think she’s going to be a dynamic, new leader for this client-centric organization.”

Added Rosenblum, “Rita has done a really strong job developing relationships with both clients and marketers, and she’s built the best kids and family sales team in the industry. What we look forward to is her taking those skills and now translating them on behalf of our entire organization, all of our brands, and working with all of our clients across all of the agencies.”

Despite the company’s new ad sales structure, there are no plans to hold a combined upfront presentation for all its properties, as NBCUniversal began doing last year. “The teams are well underway to doing the upfronts as individual businesses, and we’re going to continue to do that for this year,” said Ferro. “That allows you to have the depth in terms of the presentations for each one of the brands, but think about the dealmaking and how we bring that together with agencies and how they’re asking us to explore that.”