Turner’s Sales President on Unifying Brands for Upfronts: Goal Is ‘One Holistic Conversation’

Donna Speciale tells TheWrap that with CNN and Adult Swim now producing originals, “The timing was perfect to bring it all together”

Donna Speciale

Turner Broadcasting System Inc. is storming May’s Upfronts with a consolidated lineup, some new logistics, and the hopes of raising awareness for some of its lesser-known brands, Sales President Donna Speciale told TheWrap Wednesday of her company’s new plan.

Earlier in the day, Turner revealed that Adult Swim, Boomerang, Cartoon Network, CNN, HLN, TBS, TNT, truTV and Turner Sports would join forces for a singular Upfront event on Wednesday, May 13 at The Theater at Madison Square Garden.

While that sounds like a lot to cram into one session, it will all amount to probably a one-hour, 20-minute presentation (give or take 15 minutes), Speciale promised us: “This is not going to be two hours long, I can guarantee it,” she said. “I was on the buyer’s side, I’d get up and leave.”

Previously, Turner’s plans at the annual New York City TV ad sales meeting were more segmented among the brands: CNN, Cartoon Network and truTV have hosted individual Upfront events throughout the years, though not every year. TruTV has also hosted an afterparty the night of Turner’s Adult Swim party.

Adult Swim has typically thrown those parties, with some essence of Upfront messaging woven into the presentation format, as Turner put it for us. Meanwhile, TBS and TNT have featured their Upfront event during the main week for several years now.

While the broadcasting group will still do separate road shows to sell its individual networks, it now makes a lot more sense to “have one holistic conversation” at the week of Upfronts, Speciale explained.

“It’s a really good way to show the breadth of all our premium content,” she said. “Now that CNN is producing originals, Adult Swim is now producing their own originals — the timing was perfect to bring it all together.”

Plus, she believes it will help her team solidify, maintain or even strengthen their customer relationships.

“A lot of the clients and agencies really are looking at us more as partners … versus just sitting here and buying units,” Speciale said. “Our conversations now go way beyond selling 30-second spots.”

“We’re talking a lot more about branded content and marketing platforms that could go across and weave into different environments across our network,” she elaborated. “We really started honing in and focusing on audiences across our platforms — that is the area that we’re really going to focus on this year.”

It’s that content-driven screen agnosticism — a big 2014 ad sales buzz phrase — that Speciale is pushing, citing that her sales force now sells as one across digital and linear. And potentially more so now with the solo Upfront, across brands.

Of course, agencies or buyers don’t have to buy across the entire portfolio if they don’t want to — Speciale isn’t about to force her Cartoon Network advertisers buy TNT spots.

“Our brands are still still very important to us,” she said, citing as an example that “CNN in the news area kicks butt.”

And that said, for accounting purposes, each network still has its own sales goals and budgets — for now at least.

“Who the hell knows what the future brings?” Speciale concluded. “Nothing’s ever the same anymore, everything’s changing on a daily basis.”