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TV ad sales chiefs weighed in on how Covid-19 has changed the business.
Photo Illustration: Trent Joaquin

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By Jason Lynch

2 hours ago

As part of Adweek’s Year in Review coverage, we asked the industry’s key movers and shakers to reflect on the biggest things they’ve learned since the pandemic, what about the business has changed permanently because of Covid-19 and how their approach to their job has changed as a result of this year’s events.

On Monday, TV’s top execs—who oversee broadcast, cable and streaming outlets—answered those questions. Today, it’s time for ad sales chiefs to weigh in about how Covid-19 has changed the business. (In the coming days, we’ll also hear from buyers and analysts about the same topic.)

Here’s what they had to say.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned since the pandemic?

JP Colaco, head of advertising sales, WarnerMedia: We have learned two valuable truths: humanity exists, and innovation happens at unexpected, and sometimes our darkest, moments. We saw firsthand the resilience and compassion of the human spirit this past year. The remarkable contributions of everyday superheroes were incredibly inspiring. And for business, the industry reimagined the direct-to-consumer experience to create opportunities out of obstacles. From food delivery to streaming services and virtual meetings, DTC innovation accelerated at a breakneck pace.

Rita Ferro, president, Disney Advertising Sales: The continued importance of overcommunication with our teams, clients and partners. The last nine months have completely shifted how we do business: many more meetings and making decisions much faster. It’s essential to make people feel and stay connected and informed, especially during such a physically isolating time—prioritizing touch points with our teams at all levels, checking in on people to make sure they are doing well and creating opportunities to have “virtual fun time” with clients.

Our field is centered around human connection, entertaining and experiences, and it’s been interesting and fun to create new ways to stay in touch.

Marianne Gambelli, president, advertising sales, Fox Corp.: Plenty has changed for all of us in 2020. We were forced to reevaluate every aspect of our personal and professional lives. As we continue to go through this challenging time, I have learned not to take my interactions for granted with colleagues, family and friends. Additionally, staying connected has taken on an even greater significance and I have learned to appreciate and look forward to more of the traditional events and customs that we celebrate throughout the year.

Kim Kelleher, president of commercial revenue and partnerships, AMC Networks: That business, and the people who conduct it, are adaptable. The timing of our collective quarantine last spring, canceling our planned upfront event, sending our entire team home and finding a way through it all, to an (on balance) very successful sales effort, given the circumstances, was enheartening. I give the credit to our team, to the agencies and advertising partners we work with and everyone else involved. We were able to take thousands of conversations that would have taken place in person to a virtual environment, at a time when everyone was dealing with demands of work and home and a very stressful situation, and we got it done in a way no one ever could have imagined. 

Peter Olsen, evp, ad sales, A+E Networks: The No. 1 learning is how important leadership and communication are. We have all been faced with an unprecedented situation as an industry, but with communication and innovation we came through it fine on a business level. Above all, honesty, transparency and empathy never were more needed. 

Jo Ann Ross, president and chief advertising revenue officer, domestic advertising sales, ViacomCBS: We’ve navigated a year unlike any other, and we’re coming out of it stronger, but there is no substitute for human contact and personal interaction. Our business has always been about relationships and that has not changed, even through the pandemic. While technology enables us to connect through conference calls and Zooms, it does not replace the tremendous value of sitting at the table with colleagues or meeting face to face with our clients and agency partners. I’m so proud of everything our team has accomplished this year, and how we’ve come together and adapted to these challenging times, but I cannot wait to get back to the office and revitalize the social aspect of our work.