Jo Ann Ross on ViacomCBS’ Ad Sales and Upfront Strategy—and Why She’s Not Retiring

In her first interview since the merger, she talks about her new role at the combined company

jo ann ross
After 27 years at CBS, “I wasn't ready to hang it up, as has been rumored," Ross said.
Sasha Maslov for Adweek

Key insights:

When CBS and Viacom announced their plans to merge last August, some in the industry speculated that Jo Ann Ross, who had presided over CBS ad sales since 2002, might take it as an opportunity to retire. Instead, settled into her new corner office high up in ViacomCBS’ Times Square building two and a half months after the merger was completed in December, Ross finds herself busier than ever (“there’s not enough hours in the day!”), juggling meetings with company execs, her expanded ad sales team and clients.

“I wasn’t ready to hang it up, as has been rumored,” she said. “Hopefully, those rumors have been put to bed once and for all.”

Indeed, instead of taking an exit package from CBS, Ross is doubling down on her workload. Last October, she was named president and chief advertising revenue officer of domestic advertising sales at ViacomCBS, getting the top ad sales job at the combined company over her Viacom ad sales counterpart, Sean Moran.

Since then, Ross has been working tirelessly to learn the ins and outs of Viacom’s assets, combining the two companies’ ad sales teams and preparing for the first upfront as a unified company, she told Adweek in her first interview since the merger was completed.

Bob Bakish, ViacomCBS president and CEO, sang his new ad sales chief’s praises during last Thursday’s earnings call. “I’m thrilled with Jo Ann’s leadership,” he said, adding, “I’m confident we are going to be extremely well received in this next upfront. … I’m extremely excited about our domestic ad picture.”

So is Ross, who met with Bakish “several times” last year before agreeing to take the job. Ultimately, “it was an opportunity that really excited me. It was a fresh take on what I could do from an ad sales perspective, having a much bigger portfolio,” said Ross, adding that at CBS she often had “portfolio envy” when looking at other media companies.

She was also drawn by the prospect of leveraging CBS and Viacom’s combined digital assets, and the chance to work with new people and learn new things after her 27-year career at CBS. “You have to keep learning and experimenting, and I feel strongly about that,” Ross said. “It was a lot of things that went into it, but it was really just seeing where the industry was going and what this would become in terms of this unbelievable portfolio of assets.”

Since the merger closed in December, Ross has been getting up to speed on the various Viacom properties, including influencer marketing company Whosay, multichannel network Awesomeness and the experiential opportunities offered through VidCon.

“At CBS, we did not have that depth or breadth of asset that they have. So that learning curve has been incredible for me,” said Ross, who has also quickly gotten up to speed on Viacom’s advanced marketing solutions (AMS) offering. “I didn’t really understand it until I got here, and it works beautifully. Clients love it.”

As she completes a crash course in all things Viacom, Ross has been working to combine the CBS and Viacom ad sales groups.

“The priority for us going forward as a unified sales team is to have the best players on the field, to use a sports analogy. So in order to figure that out, I have to get to know all the different teams,” said Ross, who has also been meeting with the various Viacom key players to get a sense of that company’s portfolio.

“The biggest change is getting to know a whole new group of people that depend on me for guidance and leadership,” she said. “It’s been great. Every day is a new group of friends. And hopefully when they leave my office, we’re still friends!”

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