Both the National Association of Broadcasters and the Television Bureau of Advertising named new presidents today. At first glance, both picks look to be good fits for their respective jobs. At NAB, former Oregon Senator Gordon Smith should have the contacts and experience on the Hill that the organization desperately wants. And TVB’s choice of media buyer Steve Lanzano gives that organization its first leader to come directly from the agency ranks. Here’s hoping they both fulfill their promise.
The NAB and TVB missed their original goals of naming new presidents by Labor Day, but not by much.
Just 11 days after the holiday, both announced their picks in rapid succession this morning. First, NAB said the former Oregon GOP Senator Gordon Smith would succeed long-gone David Rehr and then less than two hours later, TVB made it official that it had selected media buyer Steve Lanzano to move in when Chris Rohrs moves out at the end of the year.
Both organizations, particularly the NAB, are to be applauded for moving quickly to fill the jobs. These are critical times for the industry and neither group can be allowed to drift.
Drift was never really a problem at TVB. Rohrs gave notice in March that he wanted out at the end of this year. That means that Lanzano will have more than three months to learn the job before he actually has to do it.
TVB’s neat transition is in marked contrast to NAB’s, however. Key NAB board members started losing faith in Rehr a year ago. It just took them until May to give him the final shove out the door. So, even before Rehr left, NAB was beginning to founder.
Although Smith doesn’t take up residence on N Street until Nov. 1, he will be introducing himself to some of the rank and file at the NAB Radio Show in Philadelphia next week and to the full board at its meeting in Dallas in October.
So, who are these guys?
After two terms as a rare moderate Republican in the Senate, Smith got the heave-ho from voters last fall as part of the Democrats’ Obama-led political tsunami.
Of course, few elected representative ever go home. So, after losing his seat, Smith landed at the mega law firm of Covington & Burling in Washington, the home base of Jonathan Blake, the broadcast superlawyer who represents the CBS and NBC affiliates, the Association of Maximum Service Television and the Open Mobile Video Coalition. Blake may have played matchmaker.
Broadcast lobbyists know Smith well since he sat on the Commerce Committee, which oversees broadcasting and cable matter, and the ones we could reach today gave him a strong endorsement.
“As a senator he understood broadcasting issues well and was often very helpful,” says Eddie Fritts, who held the NAB job prior to Rehr and who now represents broadcasters and others in Washington. “He brings a bi-partisan philosophy to the job. He will be able to open doors in important places.”
There is this one inconvenient fact: In 2007, he joined Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat, in sponsoring a bill that would open up spectrum to unlicensed wireless devices. In other words, he was on the other side of the red-hot white spaces debate.
But let’s be positive. That he co-sponsored that bill with Kerry suggests that he won’t have trouble dealing with Democrats, which is a good thing. One of Rehr’s problems was that he had trouble connecting with Democrats. In his pre-NAB glory days, Rehr was close to Tom Delay, the one-time House Majority Leader and, in the minds of many Democrats, the devil incarnate.
It also helps Smith’s bipartisan cred that he has two cousins in the Senate, Tom Udall of New Mexico and Mark Udall of Colorado, and both are Dems.
NAB members may also appreciate that Smith is a businessman, too. Before plunging into politics, he ran the family-owned Smith Frozen Foods for a spell.
“He is a tremendous leader and will do a fantastic job,” says his former constituent, Patsy Smullin, owner of network affiliates in two Oregon markets, Eugene and Medford-Klamath. “He is a strong business person and will absolutely be a tremendous asset in helping broadcasting survive and thrive.”
Lanzano is COO of Havas’ MPG, a major media buying agency that places billions of ad dollars for clients ranging from Sears to Volvo to ExxonMobil.
In hiring Lanzano, the TVB went from the sell side to the buy side of the advertising business.
Instead of hiring another broadcaster like Rohrs, TVB Chairman Frank Comerford and the other members of TVB’s search committee opted to go with a guy from the world that has been slowly choking off the flow of national ad dollars to TV stations.
TVB’s Gary Belis says Lanzano will be its first president to come directly from the agency ranks.
It’s a good move. The TVB president’s principal job is convincing national advertisers and their media planners and buyers that they ought to be pouring more money into national and local spot. Who better to make the case than a recent member of the club? It’s the same logic that NAB used in hiring Smith.
Lanzano is also a forward-thinking executive. That quality comes through in an interview he did with our contributing editor Janet Stilson last December.
He and another exec, Mitch Oscar, headed MPG’s Collaborative Alliance, which pushes along interactive TV, addressable advertising and alternative audience measurement schemes.
The alliance also hosts well-attended luncheons every few months that draw experts on the cutting edge of advertising and audience measurement. Wednesday’s gathering featured execs from Google, Verizon FiOS, Simulmedia, Navic, Alcatel Lucent and Biap.
And, happily, Lanzano seems to have a positive, but realistic understanding of TV. “There’s an immediacy to it,” he said in that interview with Stilson. “You still reach a lot of eyeballs, but not to the extent that you did before. The concern on the advertisers’ side is really dwindling ratings and people now looking at content in very different ways.”
These hires should go long way toward filling the leadership vacuum in the station business that I talked about last month, but whether they actually do depends on the men themselves. They must be smart enough to find the right path and strong enough to get others to follow them down it.
Harry A. Jessell is the editor of TVNewsCheck.You can contact him at [email protected]