ABC’s Geri Wang Provides a Steady Hand

ABC is steaming into the 2010-11 upfront at full sail, pennants fluttering from the mastheads and a new captain at the ad sales helm. And while this spring will mark Geri Wang’s first solo voyage, media buyers and clients alike say that ABC’s sales skipper is shipshape, and calm in turbulent seas.

Just one month ago, the 49-year-old Wang was elevated to president of sales and marketing at ABC after she’d spent 20 years in assorted roles at the network. Taking command of ABC’s $3 billion ad sales business, Wang succeeds Mike Shaw, the hard-as-nails sales capo who on Nov. 30 announced he was stepping down after a decade at the top.

For anyone wondering how Wang will fill the shoes of her predecessor — in the penumbra of the upfront, Shaw cultivated an air of proactive combativeness and was often willing to serve as the public voice of the broadcast business — buyers are already well aware that she’s no shrinking violet. With 10 years of prime-time sales under her belt, Wang has demonstrated that she is a savvy and confident negotiator, and like Shaw before her, she won’t hesitate to have her voice heard on various industry issues.

“In many ways, my style is no different than Mike’s,” Wang says. “I can be as candid and direct as anybody. I will be very vocal and very public when I have something to say and be part of the industry discussion. I’m not a shy person.”

Wang’s promotion was widely seen as a fait accompli, an assertion made evident by the speed with which Disney identified her as the new ad sales boss. (The duration between Shaw’s disclosure that he was hanging it up and Wang’s official succession: 79 days.) “I talked to a number of candidates, and Geri was the obvious choice for the job,” explains Anne Sweeney, co-chair, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney/ABC Television Group, who promoted Wang after plenty of due diligence. “She’s smart, knows our business inside and out, and has the experience and the insight to move ABC sales and marketing to the next level.”

Wang has spent the last two decades at ABC learning pretty much every sales-side department: daytime, early morning, news, late night and prime time, the latter as vp of prime time in 1998. She was named senior vp in 2000. During her tenure at the network, she developed a strong reputation not only among the media agency executives she negotiated with, but also her sales chief rivals at the other networks.

“There is nobody else who should have gotten that job,” says CBS ad sales president JoAnn Ross. “Geri is really smart, a strategic thinker, a perfectionist and somebody who knows and loves the business. This will be a seamless transition for her.”

Elizabeth Herbst-Brady, president of media buying agency Magna, concurs. “It shows a commitment by ABC to promote their own talent…somebody inside who is capable,” she says. “And the street feels that way. She has a long, distinguished career there. She deserves it.”

Wang believes her greatest challenge, and the most important part of her expanded job, will be to “maximize sales opportunities for ad clients.” It sounds easy enough, but pulling it off is far more difficult than ever, what with more complicated negotiations that involve a growing number of executives on the client side — no longer just marketing executives, but company procurement officers, and even presidents and CEOs.

Then there’s the task of working closer internally with the network’s entertainment division.
“Television is where many advertisers spend their most ad dollars, and there is a growing need to be creative,” Wang explains. “Today we are not only negotiating for ad time but have to find ways for the client to tap into the creative aspect of a show.”