When people think of Turner Network Television's original film The Wool Cap or the TBS comedic reality series The Real Gilligan's Island, Linda Yaccarino's name isn't likely to come to mind. But some know better.
Yaccarino, who was promoted to executive vice president and general manager for Turner Entertainment Sales and Marketing last year, had a major hand in driving the “Johnson & Johnson Spotlight Presentation” for Cap and other quality telefilms. Her team also made sure that the Mr. Howell character rescued from Gilligan's Island drove away with $250,000 in the trunk of a new Ford Mustang. Yaccarino is not only responsible for the entertainment ad sales efforts for both networks, which together rang up over $1 billion in ad sales in 2004, but has also been instrumental in forging custom client programs for TNT with the Diet Coke MovieFest, the Kleenex Tearjerker franchise and a Law & Order recap interstitial for Pfizer, Verizon and Nissan.
In addition to her work with Ford on Gilligan's, Yaccarino and her unit worked up cross-platform partnerships for another TBS reality entry, Outback Jack, and acquired series Sex and the City.
“During her tenure with the company, Linda has demonstrated strong management skills along with a sterling track record for bringing industry-leading sponsors to TBS and TNT,” says David Levy, who is both president of Turner Entertainment Ad Sales and Marketing and of Turner Sports.
Adds TNT and TBS COO Steve Koonin: “Linda and her team are constantly challenging themselves to push the boundaries of conventional thinking and take the Turner brands to a new level. We are very lucky to have her in our corner.”
Yaccarino joined Turner for the first time in 1993 as a member of its syndication division, which was later absorbed by Warner Bros. Domestic Television when Time Warner purchased Turner. After working for a year as vice president of sales for CNBC, she came back to Turner in 1997 as vice president and sales manager for Turner Entertainment Sales. She says she was motivated to return because of the organization's “commitment to quality, in terms of staff-acquired programming and original productions — a culture that supports innovation.”
She was promoted to senior vice president in 1999, before being elevated to her current position last year. Prior to her initial Turner tenure, Yaccarino spent five years at Select Media Communications, where as VP of advertising and program sales, she managed its national ad and program sales division, pitching shows, mostly movie packages, to stations in 70 markets.
“In every market, there were different considerations: How much programming they needed. Who were the owners? Was it an independent or an NBC affiliate? What license fees were they willing to pay? The advertising time that was available. All of those dynamics shaped the expectations of customers.”
Yaccarino says this training provided lessons she puts to use on a daily basis on the ad-sales side of the table. “Whether working for a local station or a national network, you have to seek a compatibility of brands,” she says. Clients know this is a continuing process, whether over the past 30 months with the “We Know Drama” positioning for TNT, or since last June with TBS's new “Very Funny” focus. “The audience has really taken to the comedies, and TBS has gotten much younger: its median age in 35.8, versus the broadcast networks being in the 40s.”
The pickup of randy Sex and the City from sister service Home Box Office has been a key in that transformation and a series that Yaccarino spent considerable effort positioning with Turner's clients. Sex was not the right fit for all clients, she notes. Nevertheless, Sex has been a strong performer for TBS, which has rounded up a host of regular sponsors. Most noteworthy: Mitsubishi, which entered into a 15-month integrated-marketing alliance.
Yaccarino also was instrumental in developing a partnership between TBS and American Express last year. It centered on the launch of TBS's new branding campaign and Amex's successful “The Adventures of Seinfeld and Superman” campaign.
Turner and Yaccarino are already well into 2005-06 upfront planning. In fact, it began last September. “You have to manage this now if you want to see the fruits in April, May and June.”
And what does Turner expect to pick up at the annual bazaar come spring? “We're going to outperform the market and outdeliver for our clients,” she says. Last year, Turner again moved very early during the upfront, beating broadcasters to the punch while racking up double-digit revenue gains and CPM advances in the high-single digits to low double digits, according to network officials.
Clearly, one of her key challenges ahead is cable's overriding fight to reach CPM parity with the major broadcast networks. “We're not going to stop working until that gap is closed and more sales coming to cable in general and to TBS and TNT in particular. We have a lot of stamina here at Turner.”
At home in Glen Head, N.Y., Yaccarino and her husband Claude need a lot of endurance to keep up with their kids' hectic sports schedules. “I have absolutely no hobbies, but we have made two long-term series commitments,” she says of Matthew, 13, an international hockey goalie, and 9-year-old Christian, a member of a traveling gymnastics squad.
“We do a lot of traveling on the weekends and vacations get planned around the kids' sporting events,” she says. “There are lots of long-distance phone calls. Happily, the last few weeks they were made from upstate New York and Philadelphia. Usually, we're calling from Ottawa.”