Art of persuasion: ‘We’re all selling, even if we don’t think we are’
“We’ve been through some things together; with trunks of memories still to come. We found things to do in stormy weather.
Long may you run.”
Ray Warren had just heard the classic Stills-Young Band song when he greeted me in his office that overlooks Times Square.
Warren grew up wanting to be a disc jockey and still loves his ’70s hits. “I was a big music guy,” he says with a smile. “I still am.”
He credits his love of music for leading him to his other love: selling and negotiating.
It was his start selling ad time for a radio station that led to a 36-year career, largely in sales and largely in sports. Ray Warren’s journey has been built on friendships, hard work and a belief that all good relationships are rooted in trust.
The “Ray Warren Show” on WICR premiered from the basement of York College in October 1974. “I did the very first show and played the first three songs: ‘Hear That Music’ by Poco; ‘Listen To The Music’ by the Doobie Brothers and then ‘My Music’ by Loggins and Messina. I just loved that. It was so much fun. My plan was to graduate in ’76, pack up my stuff and demo tapes and look for a job as a DJ. I was ready to go anywhere.”
But there was a sudden change in Warren’s plan. His father died in 1975, just before Warren entered his senior year. His mother died less than two years later, in 1977.
“When my father died, my mother took it really hard. I think she died of a broken heart just 18 months later, to tell you the truth. I was home and I couldn’t imagine leaving her alone. I really couldn’t.”
So his dream to find his first, great radio gig was put on hold. Through his cousin, he landed a job at Ted Bates Advertising as a network radio buyer, where his desk was next to a young man named Rino Scanzoni, who became a lifelong friend and longtime media buyer. Scanzoni is now chief investment officer for GroupM (see sidebar).
“It’s radio, so I go for that,” Warren recalls. “I get hired for $8,000 a year and I’m a buyer for Warner-Lambert, which was Dynamints, Certs, Dentyne and Trident gum. I’m 22 and spending $7 million a year. It was huge. I was buying everything. ABC, CBS, syndicated radio, ‘90 minutes with The Eagles.’ I’m loving it. I realized I loved the media business. I loved negotiating.”
But his mother’s death a few months later left him reeling.
“I quit,” shaking his head. “I went back to flipping pancakes in a pancake house, which I’d done in high school. I did that for a year, figured out where my head was, met a girl, fell in love and started thinking about marriage.”
At 24, Scanzoni helped him land a job at BBDO, making $10,000 a year as an assistant TV buyer on Campbell’s Soup. It was there that he met another colleague who would remain in his life, Tony Ponturo. “We were both at BBDO. Tony was my cube mate. I think he was making more than me,” Warren laughs. “Tony went on to William Esty, and I felt I needed to go somewhere too.” He joined Scanzoni at Benton & Bowles, and was a buyer on General Foods, but quickly moved on to ABC, where he felt emboldened.
“I start making $30,000 and am like, ‘OK. I’m making money now.’ It was great. 1980. We had great programming: ‘Mork & Mindy,’ ‘Laverne and Shirley, ‘Happy Days,’ ‘Three’s Company,’ ‘Hart to Hart,’ ‘Love Boat,’ ‘Fantasy Island.’ It was a blast.”
For Warren, it circled back to his start trying to sell the concept of a nascent radio station.
“I’ve loved persuasion. I really like negotiating. I like the give and take, being honest and fair,” he says. “Everybody is relatively smart; there are no dummies in this business. There might be some geniuses, but everybody is in a range, and so a lot of it comes down to the smartest guy doesn’t always win. The best prepared guy, the hardest working guy and sometimes the guy who is just not a bad guy to deal with wins. So I started putting those things together — fair, honest, work hard. Those are the three things that I believe in.”
I push about give, take and fairness in negotiations, and he stresses that one should just know when a deal is done.
“You should not even know you stopped negotiating,” he says, with emphasis. “It’s like when you bring a car to a complete stop. You can either jerk it back or you just take your foot off and feel the car slowly stop moving. That’s where the negotiation should end — when you don’t feel it. If you feel it, then something is not right on one end or the other. You should not even know you stopped; then everybody is happy.”
In 1981, Warren moved to ABC Sports, being hired by longtime ABC sports marketing and sales executive John Lazarus. “Jim Burnette moved to news, and I really wanted that sports job. I talked to John, who says, ‘I hear you want the job.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah I want it’. He’s like, ‘Good. You start on Monday.’ It was awesome. $55,000 a year! ABC Sports!”
Warren’s relationships continued to grow, but he would cross paths, again, with Ponturo. And the deals got bigger.
“I closed, at the time, the biggest deal ever at ABC. It was a $50 million deal in 1984 with Tony and Anheuser-Busch that included the Olympics and all our sports. The deal had no options, no cancellations, $50 million cash. I sold the first $1 million minute ever. It was to Anheuser-Busch for the 1985 Super Bowl on ABC. I was in sports until 1984.”
At 33, he was promoted to vice president and director of prime-time sales of ABC’s Eastern division before getting recruited by Southern-based production company Raycom.
“Rick and Dee Ray were looking for somebody from New York with a Rolodex to run sales at Raycom. Tony Ponturo was their biggest advertiser. Tony told them, ‘You should try to hire Ray Warren.’ It was nice to be interviewed. But then they put equity on the table and that was a game-changer for me: to get a piece of Raycom and a three-year contract. I’m thinking, worst case, it is Gilligan’s Island. I was scared. I was on a rocket ship at ABC. There was nothing bad going on there. I was 34 years old. I had a wife, a baby and another on the way. They were giving me this huge raise in pay at Raycom, a piece of the action, and that was the conversation. It seemed like a good idea, so we did it. I sometimes question that move, but it brought me here today, so it’s all good. It was right in my wheelhouse. The entrepreneurial spirit, starting bowl games, building up college basketball, dredging lakes to look for the gun that shot RFK! I was taking a risk, but we were out there trying. I was scared. From 1988 to 1991, it was tough. After three years, you’ve got 3 percent of the company, you got your sea legs, and you’re still doing well. I was there for 15 years. We sold the company in 1996 and it was time to go. I left really with no job, but I was going to be fine.”
After Raycom, Warren had stints at OMD and Carat Media Group Americas. While he liked the entrepreneur spirit of the agency world, he was also pining for fewer shades of gray. “With all due respect to the agency people, and I am one of them, but there is too much gray area for me. Sales are sales. Running a company is a P and L. ‘Ray, here is what we need from you this year. We need X amount of business, X amount of money, hit the bottom line every year. Cut costs, raise revenue. Are you hitting your budget?’ But agency businesses want to put the account in review or a consultant tells us there is somebody better out there or a CMO goes from client X to client Y. It’s gray. It’s just not black and white, and I’m a black and white type of guy.”
Warren left Carat in 2007 and hit the beach.
“I went to South Hampton for the summer and did nothing. After 25 years, I was waking up and reading books. I loved it. On the beach, I thought about what I wanted to do for the next 10 to 15 years and it was back to sports, college or regional, because Raycom was both.”
He reached out to his friend Jon Litner, with whom he worked closely on college programming when Litner was at ABC and Warren was at Raycom. Litner was at Comcast Sports Group and was building his staff, and Warren joined him in January 2008. For the last six years, Warren has been focused on building the company’s RSN sales group, a digital sales organization and a research group, and confronting the latest technologies, like TV Everywhere. He’s as bullish as ever on sports and sales.
“Today it’s all about advertising to the interested. Period,” he said. “You don’t want to advertise to somebody who is not interested. What I love about sports is we’ve already curated that audience. They’re interested because they’re rooting for their team. That’s not the case for general entertainment programming.”
He said the DVR has been one of the biggest influences benefiting sports prgramming. “Time shifting viewing really created the transition of sports as the new prime time. If you go back to the ’80s and ’90s, it was all about prime-time television. Sports is in that conversation now, and it’s because of the DVR. The DVR changed everything, because sports became more valuable and everything else flattened out.”
Warren also experienced the other pivotal change — the development of digital, and he credits his agency experience for understanding that space.
“I don’t think I would have believed or understood how important digital was, is and will be if I hadn’t spent five years on the agency side. If you work at a brand, all you really know about is that brand. You know the products they make and the things they do. If you work at ABC, CBS or NBC, all you really know about is your content. If you’re at an agency, you see it all. You see 48 different accounts. You get called on by every vendor of any product that is out there. Every cable network wants to know you. Every station owner wants to know you. You can get a perspective at an agency that you can’t get anywhere else.” And that’s what he tells people looking for advice on entering the business. “Go to the agency side first. You see everything. It’s an immersion in our industry.”
“My management style is always about motivation, inspiration and perspiration. Three things. First, if you don’t do it, who will? Anybody who
He starts this give and take during his interview process.
“When I interview someone, I want them right across the desk. I want them a little nervous, because I think you do better when you’re a little nervous. Later, I may do coffee or a meal. But interviewing is about business. It’s not eating or drinking. When we first meet, I want to talk to you and I want you to talk to me. I would also like you to listen. My pet peeves are people who never listen, people who aren’t prepared to be interviewed about the company or position and the ones when I’ll say, ‘Do you have any questions?’ They say, ‘No. Not really.’ Wow, you should! I’m making a big decision here. You should have some questions for me. A philosophy that I try to stay true to, it’s really hard, but it is hire slowly, fire quickly. Most people do the opposite — hire quickly and fire slowly. My gut is usually right, but there is so much to it.”
Warren’s gut guides his negotiating and has been his compass in his business and personal relationships.
“Trust is key. If I don’t trust you as the buyer, and you don’t trust me as the seller, it’s just not going to end well. It’s all about trust. I probably didn’t trust the person on the other side of the table about a third of the time. You have to do deals with whoever you have to do deals with, except you have to know your enemy. Are you dealing with someone you can trust? There are those who you trust. Then there are those who think they know it all, may know it all and maybe have more information than someone else you trust, but you don’t trust them. You say, ‘You know what? I want to do more business with this person and I want to do less business with that person.’ I can tell the difference between these two people immediately.
“I don’t know how you succeed in the business world without having sales somewhere in your DNA,” he tells me. “Some have more than others. The CEO is selling. The CFO is selling. The CMO is selling. The guy driving the truck is selling. We’re all selling, even if we don’t think we are. Attitude. Conversation. How you speak. It’s all a sell. From the bottom of the organization to the top.”
Warren and I walk toward the bank of elevators that will take me down to Times Square. He excitedly tells me of his plans to present an award the next day to the man who got him his start in sports, Lazarus, as he and his family were celebrated for their sports contributions. Warren was looking forward to being joined by his former colleagues at ABC, as well as Litner, and, of course, Ponturo. Longtime relationships rooted in trust, and there was sure to be some Bronx tales, talk of music, past deals, and, as Stills-Young wrote, trunks of memories still to come.
“Long may you run. Long may you run. Although these changes have come. With your chrome heart shining in the sun.
Long may you run.”
Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at email@example.com.