Turner Shakes Up Its Ad Sales Division to Streamline Agency and Client Partnerships

Reorg has been in the works for 3 years

How big is the Turner Ad Sales reorganization the company unveiled today? Very, according to president Donna Speciale. "This is basically the beginning of reimagining advertising," she said.

That's a tall order, but Speciale has spent more than three years preparing for the moves, which she said will streamline agency and client partnerships while boosting ROI for clients.

The biggest change is the addition of a new unit Speciale called "critical." The Client Strategy and Ad Innovation unit will be led by Michael Strober, who was recently promoted to evp after previously serving as svp, entertainment sales. Strober's unit is made up of two teams: innovation and programmatic solutions, which will focus on audience targeting and ROI guarantees; and client strategy and development, which looks at individual clients and overall strategy.

"It will be a resource for our sales staff but also for clients because we will be building category insights, which is going to help the conversations and drive deeper conversations and business results for clients," said Speciale.

Speciale's evp direct reports who previously oversaw ad sales for specific networks—Katrina Cukaj (CNN and HLN), Joe Hogan (Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Boomerang and truTV) and Frank Sgrizzi (TNT and TBS)—will now head up portfolio sales-client partnership teams that cover the whole portfolio and will instead be divided by region, clients and agencies, and categories.

"We are the only media company that will have strategic sales leadership across the entire portfolio representing our brands," said Speciale. "What we're finding is that [agencies and clients] want to have much more business and robust conversations, and in order to do that, you had to bring too many people to the table."

Previously, Speciale and Dan Riess, now evp of content partnership, "were really the only two who represented all of Turner, and the clients and agencies really want to talk about Turner as a whole," Speciale said, especially after Turner merged its linear and digital ad sales teams in March 2014. "We had to set ourselves up this way because clients are coming to us asking for us to sell across our portfolio so they can drive their audiences."

Riess will head up a group focusing on content partnerships. That team will include four svps overseeing content solutions and partnerships, Turner Entertainment, news, and Turner emerging consumers as well as vps heading up the Courageous branded content studio for CNN and HLN, and social and mobile content partnerships for the entire portfolio.

Riess' oversight will include Turner's social platform, Launchpad, which debuted this fall "but is going to really get built up in 2016," according to Speciale.

"Clients are coming to us, talking to us about developing content strategy ideas and ideation and about how to make the consumer experience that much better on our networks," she said.

Speciale said she has been planning the reorganization since she arrived at Turner in 2012 from MediaVest, where she was president, investment and activation and agency operations. She laid the groundwork for the move by creating the data-driven AudienceNow product (announced during this year's upfront), dropping up to nine minutes of ads per hour on truTV next fall, launching Courageous and giving over entire Adult Swim commercial pods to a single brand.

"This has been a long-range strategy that I've been working on over the past few years since I've been here," said Speciale. "My background is from agency, and coming here I started seeing very quickly the transformation and evolution of what was going on between media companies and ad agencies and clients. So, we have been going through this transformation over the past two years."

But many of the changes also echo requests Turner's clients have been making. "Clients have been wanting us to a streamline a lot better; there's definitely been many Turner sales execs calling into meetings," said Speciale. "We now have other individuals and other resources—whether it's in branded content or our social area or our data area—that we're also now bringing to the party. So the conversations are getting deeper, but we need to streamline and simplify the conversations with the right people at the table."

Last month, NBCUniversal created a client-focused group to be more accessible and merged its linear and digital ad sales teams. And just two weeks ago, Viacom quietly gave its ad sales group a more collaborative, client-friendly name: Marketing and Partner Solutions.