Media All-Stars 2003: Spot TV – Anne Elkins

Her national experience translates to an understanding of how effective local buys can be.

Whatever you do, don’t compliment MediaCom’s Anne Elkins on great spot buying.

“Spot, to me, means that you’re just buying that one 30-second commercial, and that’s not what we do,” says Elkins, senior vp, director of local broadcast at the Grey Global Group media shop. “We put together media schedules that make sense, that combine the strength of each local marketplace. It’s funny; I’ve been very adamant about it. In meetings, if somebody says the word spot, I look up and [say], ‘That would be local.'”

Although the Bayside, Queens–born Elkins has been at the agency for 11 of the 13 years she’s been in the industry, she can still be considered a newcomer. In the summer of 2002, Elkins made the switch from national broadcast buying to spot/local broadcast.

Local broadcast generally has been viewed as living in the shadows of the much more prominent national media buying arena, notes Jon Mandel, MediaCom’s chief global buying officer. Mandel moved Elkins from national to local broadcast as a way to emphasize the need to bring a different way of thinking to that area, in terms of how local buys fit into the total marketing mix.

“I think there has been a weakness in local broadcast buying and selling throughout the industry,” says Mandel. “[Elkins’] years in national has been a game-changer, not just for us but also for the industry, and has affected the way the sellers price and how clients view local and national. She has helped us move money from national to local after demonstrating that there is often a disconnect in what was happening in the national and local marketplace.”

Described as inquisitive and extremely personable, Elkins is credited by others as having the ability to take information from various sources and bring it to bear on her spot buys. “Her experience in national has given her a unique insight into the various markets from a big-picture point of view,” says Jan Baaden Gee, advertising manager for Minneapolis-based Supercuts. “So whether it’s a smaller market like Spokane, Wash., or a larger market like Chicago, she really has in-depth knowledge—and not just demographic information but political information, the economic data and unemployment rates, all kinds of things that might impact that market. And she’s able to draw down all that knowledge from a national perspective to the local level.”

Elkins started her career as a sales associate at ESPN, after a stint answering phones. From this experience, she learned the intricacies of building schedules, negotiating rates and managing inventory, which now enhance her client relationships. In April 1991, she joined Grey’s media department—which later became MediaCom—as an assistant broadcast buyer. She spent the subsequent 10 years “growing up” at MediaCom, working on a variety of high-profile accounts in both local and national broadcast, including UpJohn, Warner Bros. films, Hasbro, Reebok and SlimFast.

Her first job at ESPN was receptionist, Elkins recalls, noting that she was also pursuing a master’s degree in theater at the time—she has a bachelor’s degree in theater arts from the State University of New York at Binghamton—and was beginning to have second thoughts. She had given her resumé to a number of employment agencies, and a headhunter called and asked her how she felt about television. “Sounds cool,” was Elkins reply, and soon enough, in mid-1989, she was answering the phones at ESPN. As the idea of returning to finish her theater course work began to seem less appealing, a sales associate job at ESPN opened up, and Elkins applied for it.

“I was very definite in making them aware that ‘no, no, no, I didn’t go to college, I didn’t go to grad school, and I didn’t get through the first year of my master’s program to become a secretary,'” Elkins says. “It was Evan Sternschein who is now [senior vp, national ad sales] at Discovery [Networks] and Marty Mylott, who’s still at ESPN [as director of national sales] who turned around and said they would give me a shot. They were all fantastic and they were all wonderful, wonderful people. And I hated them all because they looked at me and said, ‘Get out of here, you need to learn how to negotiate, and there’s no place better to learn how to negotiate than an agency, so go to an agency. You’ll be back.'”

The lessons learned from the abrupt change prepared her well when, last summer, after being well-versed in national under Donna Speciale, former executive vp, director of national and local broadcast, Elkins started anew.

Speciale had taken on both national and local in January 2000. After doing the same work for so many years, Elkins was ready for a change. Speciale offered her the position of running local.

“I asked Donna, ‘What do you need me to do?’ And she said, ‘Just make it run,'” Elkins recalls. MediaCom’s local broadcast, before Elkins came in, was described by sources as “floundering and rudderless.” Elkins, who now oversees 45 buyers and market specialists, was charged with rebuilding the team and regaining morale.

Her measured negotiating style emphasizes her personal warmth as opposed to the adversarial manner some buyers employ as a way of intimidating sellers to get what they want.

“She brings a sense of balance and she’s a great listener, both for us and her clients,” says Mark Miller, currently executive vp for TV station sales at NBC. Miller, who first met Elkins when he was a vp for sales at CNN in 1991, praises the nimble move Elkins made from national to local. “It’s one thing to look at a network on a national level and see a complete whole. But when you’re doing local, each area has its own strengths and weaknesses and certain unique qualities,” Miller says. “She’s been able to quickly analyze the differences from market to market.”

Though her previous experience was all in national, Elkins gained the confidence of the local staff, say several sources both in and outside of MediaCom. “She knows how to build a team and convey her objectives,” says John Watkins, president of ABC national television sales. “She’s not a micromanager; she freely shares credit with others, and she’s in a position where the temptation to do otherwise is always there.”

Says Elkins: “It’s been 18 months now, and it’s been fantastic. I am happiest when I am challenged by new thoughts. And it’s still challenging and I’m still happy.”

As for any thoughts about returning to the seller side, Elkins laughs and mentions the stock dialogue she has whenever she runs into ex-boss Sternschein. “Every couple of months, we run into each other and he goes, ‘OK, I’m going to hire you back,'” she says. “And my standard response is, ‘Nope, you can’t afford me anymore.'” David Kaplan is a staff reporter at Adweek.