How Disney-ABC Navigated Its Ad Sales Renaissance

Few Hollywood icons have had a career as illustrious as Mickey Mouse, who made his silver screen debut in “Steamboat Willie” back in 1928. Now, his bosses at Disney-ABC have become more tech-savvy, reorganizing the company’s ad sales strategy to make magic in advanced TV advertising.

About a year ago, Disney-ABC unified its ad sales divisions under the company’s president of sales, Rita Ferro. Senior sales members spent six months integrating previously siloed teams to present Disney-ABC as a “one-stop shop for advertising clients,” the company’s president, Ben Sherwood, said at the time.

Having acquired its own data platform via majority ownership of BAMtech, undergone a radical reorganization in management and acquired several Fox assets recently approved by shareholders, Disney-ABC is expanding way beyond the Magic Kingdom — with super-sophisticated, data-driven advertising, of course.

AdExchanger caught up with Disney-ABC’s EVP of client and audience solutions, Laura Nathanson, to chronicle the rebirth of the company’s ad sales strategy.

AdExchanger: What were the early days of the Disney-ABC ad sales renaissance like?

LAURA NATHANSON: We spent time thinking about how you bring cable and network businesses together and digital and social businesses, too. Truthfully, the cable side had some very different ideas about social, and broadcast was a big, structured business in its own place. We tried to figure out how to make this all come together, and Rita was leader of that and worked with me and several of her senior team to reorganize.

How did that change the dynamic of your team?

My group became what we now call “client and audience solutions,” which was figuring out how we bring to market the advanced advertising solutions that clients are asking us for. My team interfaces with all the line salespeople and the pricing and planning teams.

We work with everyone, but we’re really trying to modernize. I guess it really is part of the renaissance, like, how do we bring new selling methods to everyday business?

What can Disney-ABC uniquely offer advertisers?

We start from a unique premise of an amazing company of content that’s unrivaled in the way we think about connecting with consumers through storytelling. That’s part of the Disney DNA, and that is true of every brand within our house.

We’re new to this, but what we’re trying to take to our clients that is not only do we have world-class content, we’re going to be able to connect their brand to our content in a unique way that makes sense, whether that’s State Farm or Coke or anyone else.

Some clients want something completely unique in advanced advertisement, whether that’s a programmatic solution or a linear optimized solution. Others say, “I really want the content. I want to make it easier to buy your content.” It differs by client and we’re hoping to come up with unique ways of doing that. But it’s not one size fits all.

Plus, you have Mickey Mouse.

Well, Mickey Mouse is interesting because if you think about Disney, we’re cradle-to-grave. That’s a weird phrase, but we represent whether you’re the youngest member of the family or you’re the oldest member of the family. We’re uniquely positioned, and clients have been asking us for this: We want to buy people who do blank, whatever that is. It doesn’t have to be men or women 18 to 49 – they want moms, they want sports fans, they want heavy shoppers.

We can do that because of the depth and broadness of our audience and our content. And that uniquely positions us in terms of advanced advertising, which is moving away from age and gender, and more to these demographic lifestyles.

For what it’s worth, I’m a Donald Duck fan.

I’d try to do the voice, but I’d embarrass myself.

What do you think Disney-ABC can expect to gain now that it’s in the process of acquiring Fox assets and a majority stake in Hulu?

We think this is a marriage that’s going to bring more interesting content into our house that will allow us to reach different kinds of consumers. Strategically, we’re not trying to build a Viacom, which has lots of the same kinds of brands. It’s a house of brands, so each of those brands should bring something unique and vibrant to the consumer.

I feel like that will help us connect with advertisers because, again, car companies have lots of different points of contact that they want to make. The more things we can bring to the table, the more points of contact we can have between us.

What’s your road map for the future of Disney in advanced advertising?

My team is really excited. It means that we can take linear television and optimize it to better reach new lifestyle segments. Again, if you’re trying to reach heavy shoppers, and you can bring that across the whole Disney portfolio, we can do some really interesting deals with our clients.

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