Fully Networked Media1 Jul, 2013 By: Thomas Haire Response
Turner’s sales team, headed by Katrina Cukaj and Jason Baron, provides a stellar DR-digital combo to an advertiser base that’s more interested than ever before.
“At Turner — and I think across much of the network universe — direct response is no longer seen as the legacy ‘As Seen On TV’ universe,” says Jason Baron, senior vice president, direct response, Turner Broadcasting Sales in New York. “While there still is plenty of that — especially in local cable breaks — people know there’s been a big push in the pharma, telco and insurance categories, just to name a few. These major companies now have separate budgets for their DR business, and they look to us to work together closely with our general team. It’s up to us to communicate internally and do what’s best for the client and for Turner.”
The rise of the power of direct response inside major cable television network groups has been documented in the pages of Response during recent years. But perhaps nowhere has DR gained a more powerful foothold recently than at Turner. With the support of Greg D’Alba, president of CNN News Networks and Turner Digital Sales, and Katrina Cukaj, executive vice president, CNN Ad Sales, Baron has spent more than a decade driving the growth of DR inside the company, which includes CNN/U.S., CNN.com, HLN, TBS, TNT, truTV, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Turner Sports.
“Direct response plays a vital role in the health of our overall sales, says D’Alba. “The days of DR being considered a ‘spots-and-dots’ play are long gone. We’re a forward thinking, integrated team that works with our network sales counterparts on big ideas for our clients.”
That integration across DR, digital and network sales has been the biggest boon to Baron and his team, which includes his two crucial sales managers Monique Pintarelli and vice president Eric Steaple. “There is a lot of communication among myself, the senior management team and Eric and Monique,” Baron says. “So many Fortune 500 companies are now embracing the DR model, looking for branding and measurement. We have to make sure we’re not taking budgets from each other.”
A Turner Believer
Perhaps Baron’s expertise in crossing those internal boundaries at Turner comes from his history with the company, which he joined in December 1997 as an account executive for its news networks — “Then, CNN, Headline News and CNN Airport,” he says.
But, in reality, Baron has been in the direct response business since graduating from Rutgers University in 1992. “I started at a DR buying and planning agency, Corinthian, and worked my way up,” he recalls. “It was one of those jobs: assisting on 50 local markets, then buying on 60 local markets — all smaller markets. There were the 12-hour days, no overtime. If you handle it well, it builds your work ethic, and I carry that ethic still.”
After Corinthian, he spent time in Grey Advertising’s various DR divisions. “I worked on campaigns like Body by Jake and Stop the Insanity — classic DRTV campaigns, but it was all sheer local market buying,” Baron says. “But in 1996, I became a buyer and account planner, which gave me planning and account experience with national cable. I also got to work with larger, more traditional clients like the non-profit Save the Children and Microsoft.”
He was doing a lot of business with Turner when, in late 1997, he took an interview with the network giant. “I really felt like I wanted to be on the sales side,” Baron recalls. “It felt like it was in my DNA, and with my college background in history and communications, I really wanted to sell CNN. I was a huge fan of the network and I believed Turner, as its owner, was the best cable network group.”
He realized that opportunity, as he spent “a couple years” as an account executive for those news networks. He then moved up the chain — first to a director then to a manager by 2001. By 2002, he was named a vice president of his group. “It was a small team, maybe three to five people — myself, an account executive, a planner, an assistant,” he recalls.
During that time, Steaple joined his team in 2004. “Eric’s been along for the whole ride, moving up like I did through the ranks,” Baron says. When Turner merged its four divisions — entertainment, young adult/animation, news and sports — under a single DR ad sales umbrella, Baron took over as vice president of that group. And Steaple “has been my No. 2 since that merger,” he says.
“He’s really adept at all the different facets of the job,” Baron adds. “He’s well liked in the DR agency and client communities, as well as across Turner’s divisions. He provides a really calm presence during the crazier times. It’s been said around here that I’m the fire and he’s the ice.”
DR’s Growing Influence
When the Turner sales team realigned in 2011, DR’s continued success led to another promotion for Baron — to his current role as senior vice president. The powerful work of the DR group was again being noticed.
“The importance and the maturity of the DR industry is clear,” says Cukaj. “Fortune 500 companies embrace the ROI value and the flexibility of running a DR campaign. As the quality and rates of DR begin to gain parity with some segments of the general marketplace, most major cable players recognize the consistent value that DR brings to their overall business.”
That value — and Baron’s team — helped bring Turner’s digital group, then located in the company’s corporate headquarters in Atlanta, under Baron’s purview when he was promoted to senior vice president in 2011. The larger group meant Baron and his team became even more centrally involved in Turner’s overall business plan.
“Since we’re working across four divisions, it means we’re involved in management and team meetings in each division, as well as working with senior-level agency leaders invested in each division,” Baron says. “But a big advantage of how Turner is structured now is that DR has slotted inventory on each of our networks. We know what inventory we’re getting — as well as knowing that we’ll also get additional inventory on top of that. It’s allowed us to become more sophisticated in our offers.”
It also allowed Baron to add another quality manager to supplement Steaple’s efforts. Pintarelli is filling what Baron calls a “hybrid role,” since the job shifted to New York this year, handling “digital offerings, as well as truTV, Adult Swim and Cartoon Network.” He adds, “She’s had general sales experience at Turner for more than a decade, and has done a lot of integrated deals on the general side of CNN.com. She’s got vision, experience and history. And I love having a hybrid manager here in New York helping the DR team sell integrated multi-screen deals.”
New Offers for a New Era
The combination of DR and digital has raised the perception of both media in Turner’s halls. “We’re involved in a lot of executive forecasting meetings now, and we’re in the mix of the conversation in how each of the four divisions are hitting their numbers and how it changes our inventory,” Baron says. “And, when planning budgets, DR is simply taken into account much earlier in that process now. We get our allotment immediately during the process, and it’s been recognized that daytime is our prime time. It’s very efficient for advertisers, it makes a good rate for the company — daytime just makes sense.”
Cukaj agrees, adding, “DR is an integral piece of the overall sales revenue, and continues to be in high demand across the portfolio. Though dayparts and amounts may vary by division, each network earmarks inventory for DR. At Turner Broadcasting, we aim to partner with our advertisers to meet the needs of their particular — and often dynamic — business models, from branding campaigns to direct marketing ROI goals. Our partners benefit from the diversity of our platforms and the quality of our audiences to drive purchasing decisions.”
Those benefits have caused Turner’s advertisers and agency partners — both large and small — to take notice. “We’re getting a lot more RFPs (requests for proposal) from clients and agencies than we did five to 10 years ago,” Baron says. “We’re dealing more directly with marketers themselves, as well. In fact, we’re working on a deal now with one prospective client in a major category who is looking for a full-year deal across multiple screens.”
Multiple screens equates to digital video for the Turner team. “The biggest growth engine right now is digital video,” Baron says. “We hear that question — ‘Can we run our TV creative online?’ — all the time. With ‘TV Everywhere,’ we’re able to offer a lot more impressions. When clients can’t get their first option on TV, the first question asked now is ‘How can I shift my budget into online video?’”
Baron also mentions video-on-demand across various screens as another big growth area. “It’s becoming a very substantial business, especially for our entertainment and young adult divisions,” he says. “CNN is heading that way, as well, with the new Anthony Bourdain show, among others. And mobile — especially tablets — is growing too. As we go along, digital display advertising is simply going to get smaller. VOD and mobile is our digital future.”
Still, Turner’s alignment across its four divisions of networks, along with the teaming of DR and digital media, puts it into position to best help its client base, Baron believes. “We can find a place for you, no matter which client you are,” he says. “From Cartoon to CNN to Adult Swim to TNT, no matter your goals, there are spots on Turner that we can bring you the ROI and branding you need.” ■