TV Upfronts: The 6 Most Important Ad Buyers You Need to Know

 

This story first appeared in the May 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Operating largely behind the scenes, agency media buyers roam the annual TV upfronts mostly unnoticed. But because they represent advertisers who spend billions of dollars every year, the top media buyers wield considerable influence on what Americans see on TV and online platforms. After all, the annual broadcast (and now cable and digital) dog-and-pony show is designed to persuade the buyers to commit their clients’ money. The upfront process used to be fairly simple: In May, the networks announced their fall program plans, and buyers would make their “upfront” commitments on behalf of clients, often in late-night negotiating sessions with cold pizza over the span of two or three days. Now, planning begins in February, negotiations stretch into the July 4th weekend, and final details are hammered out days before the September start to the season. Meet the six most important buyers in the market today.

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Rino Scanzoni

Chief investment officer, GroupM

Major clients: Ford, American Express, Nestle, Unilever

Total annual ad spend: $30B (across all media)

The most powerful buyer in the media agency business, Scanzoni, 59, oversees the collective buying clout of major media agencies Mindshare, MediaCom, Maxus and MEC. Scanzoni became the prime power broker of the television business through the effective use of top-down negotiating: He was the first to take the collective weight of all his clients’ budgets and secure steep discounts for that volume. Other multiagency shops followed suit, and the age of consolidated clout in the ad agency business was born. Scanzoni now divides his time between New York and Utah, but any network sales executives who mistake his location as a sign he no longer is paying attention to the details of the upfront do so at their own peril.

John Muszynski

Chief investment officer, SMG Exchange

Major clients: Kellogg, Kraft, Microsoft, Honda

Total annual ad spend: $14B

The man to see in Chicago, Muszynski, 54, cut his teeth in the buying world with ad agency giant Leo Burnett and heavily was involved when Burnett created Starcom, the media-side sister agency, during the 1990s. After moving up the ranks at Starcom, becoming president from 2005 to 2009, Muszynski then took his decades of relationship building to create the role f chief investment officer of SMG Exchange, which represents consolidated buying for Starcom and sister shop MediaVest. “I can always win in any one negotiation, but how will I win multiple times if I don’t come at the negotiation with a partnership mentality?” he says. He argues that consistency always will win long-term business, even if it means short-term pain.

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Andy Donchin

Executive vp, director of national broadcast and media investments, Carat USA

Major clients: General Motors, Macy’s, Home Depot

Total annual ad spend: $5B

Perhaps the lowest profile (and humblest) of this group, Donchin, 52, is decidedly old school in his belief that relationships matter enormously in the business of buying and selling spots. Winning GM, the third-largest U.S. advertiser in the marketplace, made the 20-year Carat veteran “more popular and better-fed than ever before,” jokes Donchin. The car giant is one reason the TV upfront exists — it was back during the 1950s when the networks started laying out their fall season plans in May, the time of year when the car industry introduced its new models. It’s no surprise that Donchin remains a believer in the annual upfront process, however convoluted it has become.

Kristian Magel

Executive vp, director of national broadcast, Initiative

Major clients: Hyundai/Kia, Merck, MillerCoors, USAA

Total annual ad spend: $6B

The baby of this gang, Magel, 42, avowedly believes the explosive growth of digital content and media only has expanded the TV world, rendering it, in his terms, a multiscreen video landscape. Which makes it crucial, he says, to do his homework before hearing the pitches from media companies. “Analytics, data and insight play such a vital role to understanding this bigger marketplace,” says Magel. It’s a lesson he learned in the ’90s as a buyer. One night on the eve of the upfront, he noticed his colleagues huddled in their boss’ office with spreadsheets and calculators. The next morning, he discovered billions of dollars had changed hands overnight — and he had missed it. He says, “Never again did I make that mistake.”

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Chris Geraci

President of investment, Omnicom Media Group

Major clients: Apple, PepsiCo, Nissan, GE

Total annual ad spend: $16B

As digital video began to take root during the mid-2000s, Geraci, 47, had the foresight to assemble a team specifically devoted to understanding that nascent market. “The idea of web-based shortform programming of high quality is actually starting to happen now,” he says. But TV remains at the core of his interests. Geraci remembers in the late ’80s attending Fox’s first-ever upfront presentation, held in the Boathouse in Central Park. The AV portion was a disaster thanks in part to rogue Central Park wildlife like pigeons flying through. But Fox’s product was so good at the time, the network made a convert out of Geraci: “I still have my ‘I Survived the First Fox Upfront’ T-shirt they sent me afterwards.”

Aaron Cohen

Executive vp, chief media negotiation officer, Horizon Media

Major clients: Geico, Capital One, United Airlines

Total annual ad spend: $4B

The elder statesman of the group, Cohen, who declines to reveal his age, oversees all negotiations for the biggest independent media agency in the business. He also is the only buyer of the bunch who actually once sold ad inventory: He got his start in the 1970s selling a little-known late-night show called Saturday Night Live. A former mathematics professor, Cohen always disliked the late-night heroics of his media agency brethren. “I tried never to get caught up in that madness. I mean, who makes a better deal at 2 a.m.? It was absolute idiocy,” he says. And that philosophy feeds into one of his core mantras, cultivated over decades of negotiating: “Control negotiations — so that they don’t control you.”

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