Donna Speciale on Fútbol, Football and Avoiding Strike-Related Upfront Upheaval

The TelevisaUnivision ad sales chief talks the importance of Hispanic media and scoring a goal in Mexico City

With negotiations already well underway following a busy upfront week, Adweek is continuing its traditional postmortem sitdowns with the presenting ad sales chiefs.

NBCUniversal’s Mark Marshall and Fox’s Marianne Gambelli got things started, and next up is Donna Speciale, TelevisaUnivision’s president of U.S. advertising sales and marketing.

Unlike most other presenters this week, TelevisaUnivision’s event featured a full roster of on-stage talent, as the company is not affected by the ongoing Writer’s Guild of America strike. Speciale opened up about the new venue and her trip to Mexico City to learn the art of fútbol—and why she became the star of the show to help educate marketers about the Hispanic audience.

The exec also explained why the marketplace might move slowly this year and revealed if she actually scored a goal against the Mexican soccer legends she faced off against in that upfront video.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Adweek: It’s been a few days since the presentation. Looking back now, what are you proudest of?
Speciale:
I think we did a phenomenal job really bringing the Hispanic community and experience and passion and culture of the Hispanic audience to life. Many of the clients felt the passion and energy of our company, but also really brought to life what the Hispanic audience is all about. It was a lot of education. People understood how Hispanic audiences can grow their business. I believe we showed that in a really—obviously entertaining—but succinct way.

Going into the upfront, what were your top priorities this year for the presentation?
One, the importance of the Hispanic audience and the growth potential for clients’ businesses. Two, the growth trajectory of Vix and the huge momentum that we have had just in this past year. Hearing from clients that have obviously been leaning into our audience, and hearing from clients themselves on how much impact it has shown in their business and having clients hear from other clients. And just a lot of the new announcements with all of our sports properties across the board with fútbol and football, which is really exciting. We have gotten tremendous feedback that everybody was excited about all of the soccer announcements that we made and the fact that we also have the Super Bowl this year.

You had significant announcements with major names on stage: Super Bowl-level news.
Again, all the marketers and agencies were impressed, and we did a phenomenal job of bringing it to life, and we always say it, and it’s true, but we are the home of soccer, and you saw that on stage in spades.

Let’s talk about soccer. Last year, your salsa dancing was the talk of the town, and you danced on stage this year too. But you also headed to Mexico City for soccer. Will we be seeing salsa at future upfronts? The audience is expecting it at this point.
I would say stay tuned. Never say never. Everybody knows I like to dance. The reason that I do a lot of these videos—the first one was a salsa dance, and this one is to shine a light on the experience of our audience. The first video was really about partnership. This is obviously a lot about teamwork, but the goal was to show the passion and the fandom and the culture of what this audience has for soccer. It was a huge education for me, being at Azteca Stadium. I had never been there before, and the fandom is unbelievable. I’ve never experienced anything like it, even in an NFL game. And I’ve been to many, many football games. My goal is to keep doing it. I have to keep beating the drum, no pun intended, and every chance I get, show clients and share with clients the difference and nuances of our Hispanic audience and the passion and culture they have for all aspects of our content—whether it’s music and entertainment and our tentpoles, which is you see when you go to a Latin Grammys, PJs [Premios Juventud] or a soccer game.

It will definitely be a slower pace, only because of timing and people just not being ready. But conversations are happening and will be continuing for a while.

Donna Speciale on the state of upfront talks

Last year salsa, this year soccer, next year maybe something new—but what was harder of the two?
Probably salsa, only because if you saw the moves he made me do. That was definitely something I didn’t expect myself to do, but I had a really good teacher, and when you have a good partner, you can do anything, which is what that was all about. But those steps were probably the hardest for me.

I could certainly never do that. But did you actually score a goal in the video?
I actually did. I totally did score it. They were great. The women I played with were phenomenal. Trust me. I was not as good as any of them on the field. But they were great, and the legends that I played with, the guys, were phenomenal. I did do a header. They didn’t show it, but I did it.

Shifting gears a little bit, TelevisaUnivision was one of the few presentations that was able to have talent on stage. Was your presentation impacted by the strike?
It was not impacted at all. Everybody that we had going showed up. We had one person not show up, but it had nothing to do with the strike, it had to do with scheduling. But we were not impacted at all.

Can you tell us anything about early negotiations?
We talk to our clients on an ongoing basis. Discussions are happening. Upfront is here. It will definitely be a slower pace, only because of timing and people just not being ready. But conversations are happening and will be continuing for a while.

What message did you want marketers to take away from your presentation?
That ’22 was about transformation for us, and ’23 is about differentiation. [Pierluigi Gazzolo, CEO of Vix] talking about Vix and all the momentum that we have, and how thousands and thousands of hours in Spanish language is a very unique proposition that does not exist in our marketplace. We did a phenomenal job of showing how unique and different the Hispanic audience is, and what a tremendous growth driver it is for marketers in order for them to grow their business. Everybody left that one-hour show completely leaning in. That was the goal.

Looking back, is there anything you wish you could have done differently?
No. We had standing room, so the only thing would maybe be to have more chairs. The venue got bigger. We had huge attendance. Everybody stayed for the reception. If I could have made the space a little bigger so people could have been sitting, but it was exactly what I wanted to do.

You moved into a new venue this year, Pier 36. How did that compare to last year, and do you think you’ll stay?
To be determined. We went to Pier 36 because we did need a bigger space, and the fact that I had standing room, which is what happened the first time, we’ll see. It’s hard to find venues that week because a lot of them are taken, but it was a great space for us.

Will we see you and TelevisaUnivision back at upfront week next year?
We will be back. It’s really important for us. It’s our way of showcasing our audience to our marketers, who are not necessarily immersed in the culture on a day-to-day basis. This is our one time to shine a light on the Hispanic audience, and we will be back.

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