Her Company’s Name (and Owner) Has Changed, But Donna Speciale’s Upfront Priorities Have Not

She previews what’s in store at WarnerMedia’s presentation next Wednesday

Donna Speciale is trying to keep this year's upfront event 'condensed and a little bit shorter' than last year.

Ahead of the most distinct, transformative upfronts week in a decade, Adweek is sitting down with a different ad sales chief each day. Following Fox’s Marianne Gambelli on Tuesday, and Disney’s Rita Ferro Wednesday is WarnerMedia’s president of ad sales Donna Speciale, who is overseeing her company’s first upfront since it was bought by AT&T last June.

In March, AT&T rolled out a major WarnerMedia restructuring that moved Speciale and her team into the WarnerMedia Affiliates and Advertising Sales Group, led by WarnerMedia chief revenue officer Gerhard Zeiler, and phased out the Turner brand.

While Speciale declined to comment further about WarnerMedia’s decision last month to pull out of OpenAP (the audience targeting platform she helped created two years ago), she spoke with Adweek about what has changed as a result of the restructuring, her WarnerMedia ad sales team’s relationship with Xandr (AT&T’s advertising and analytics unit, which is holding its own upfronts event on Tuesday) and what’s in store during Wednesday’s presentation.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Adweek: It’s been two months since the WarnerMedia restructuring was announced. What does that mean for your team, as you go into the upfront? Are you still called Turner ad sales?
Speciale: We are now WarnerMedia, so we are now WarnerMedia ad sales and marketing. We now represent all of WarnerMedia, which now includes Warner syndication and some of Otter Media’s digital networks: Rooster Teeth and Crunchyroll.  So when we go into the upfront, we’ll be utilizing that. In my mind, it’s continuing on the portfolio focus, like we did when we broke down our silos with the different networks. Now it’s that holistic conversation that clients want. It just got a lot more simpler under our umbrella, and that’s what you’re going to see in the upfront.

Has your purview expanded or contracted as part of the restructure? What are you now overseeing?
Syndication is going to be part of it and more digital properties are going to be part of it. And more to come. We couldn’t change everything drastically all at once because it’s a big behemoth, so as WarnerMedia starts figuring out all their other different silos I will have more come underneath me.

There are still a lot of questions about WarnerMedia’s upcoming streaming service, but it seems like the base level of it will be ad-supported. Will that fall under you as well?

What about sports?
That hasn’t been determined yet.

What about the global kids and young adult networks that moved over to Warner Bros. in the restructuring?
Every network that we had represented we still represent. And Gerhard oversaw international, so he’s got the global purview.  We’ve worked very closely with [CNN International Commercial president Rani Raad] on CNN. Our two global biggest brands are CNN and kids, so over time you may see a lot more connection. I believe there’s going to be a bigger [push] on global focus and global deals, and now it’s even easier to do because Gerhard oversees it all.

But those plans are more long-term, right? Not in this upfront?
No. I’ll never say never, but I am not on stage talking about global at all. If clients want to do it, we’re set up to do it.

We’re going to talk about the breadth of the portfolio from a holistic content perspective, which I think is a little different than previous years.

How does your upfront approach change this year, if at all, giving everything going on with your company?
Nothing’s changed. We set ourselves up last year to be much more holding company focused, so we are talking to each individual holding company like we have done in the past. We just now are having a bigger conversation and purview with other properties now being represented. We are partnering with Xandr where clients and holding companies want us to, but we’re going on a client-by-client or holding company-by-holding company basis. It’s not a force fit, but if anybody wants us to bring the two together and have a holistic conversation, we are doing that.

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