Debbie Richman: A Different Kind of Sales Pitch
Ad agency veteran Richman is now on the other side of the table with Lifetime Networks
By Allison Romano -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/28/2008 2:00:00 AM
As the 2008 upfront season unfolds, advertising sales veteran Debbie Richman finds herself playing a new role in this year's negotiating dance.
After a 20-year career in top media buying firms, Richman is now on the other side of the table, as executive VP of ad sales for Lifetime Networks. And although she's only been on the job at the women's network since mid-March, Richman has already honed a new pitch.
“Lifetime is a top destination for women, and we are an iconic brand that is being reinvigorated with new branding and programming,” Richman says of her new company. “It is great to be out on the street selling that.”
At a time when Lifetime is refreshing both its image and programming, having a fresh face leading sales is critical for selling to Madison Avenue. More than ever, advertisers are looking to extend their reach across media platforms and get value for their ad dollars.
Few understand those demands better than Richman, who most recently was managing director of national broadcast for OMD, one of the country's most influential ad buying firms.
Lifetime had been without an ad sales chief since last June, when former top exec Lynn Picard left the company. Filling the position has been a top priority for Lifetime CEO Andrea Wong, who herself joined about a year ago. Richman, she says, is highly regarded in both the TV and advertising industries.
“Debbie is universally loved by the community,” Wong says. “She has lived with advertisers every single day for years. As we go into a more complicated environment, it is important to understand clients' needs so we can craft something that works for everyone. She understands what advertisers want.”
Richman's experience in media buying spans more than two decades. After graduating from Emory University in 1984, the Brooklyn native returned to New York and joined Ogilvy & Mather, where she worked as an assistant for the television group, which was at the time headed by Marc Goldstein.
After several years, she jumped to Young & Rubicam, where she was assigned to the Johnson & Johnson account. When J&J moved its business to McCann-Erickson, Richman followed. In total, she worked on J&J business for 10 years, eventually handling all of its broadcast network buying. (At the time, J&J handled cable and syndication media buying in-house.)
Richman says J&J was a complicated account that taught her valuable lessons in multi-tasking. “The challenge was that I had 52 brands, all with their own objectives and budgets,” she says. “But I loved all of the deal-making.”
Her next challenge came at Optimum Media, the media buying group for DDB, where she helped run the group's buying operation. “After running one piece of business for 10 years, it was eye-opening to then have 22 accounts,” she says.
Soon after, OMD merged the buying arms of DDB, BBDO and TBWA, and Richman spearheaded the integration of the three divisions. In 2005, she was tapped to be managing director of national broadcast for OMD. As OMD's top buyer, she directed accounts for big-name clients including Hershey, Universal Pictures, Mobil, Clorox and McDonald's. Since Richman has joined Lifetime, some of those clients, including McDonald's executives, still call to check in with her.
At OMD, she created the OMD Summit, where clients and industry execs would generate ideas on the upfront and new advertising opportunities, such as integration and branded entertainment. Among her biggest deals were getting two new models of Nissans integrated into NBC's hit supernatural drama Heroes in consecutive seasons.
“It was very exciting, but those deals are hardly the norm,” she recalls. “It was about making your clients' dollars work harder.”
Richman also engineered a product integration deal for Comedy Central's hit show The Colbert Report where Doritos sponsored the Hail to the Cheese: Stephen Colbert Nacho Cheese Doritos 2008 Presidential Campaign.
In the last several years, Richman says advertisers and agencies began to dive into multiplatform deals across TV and digital platforms, including online and mobile. She says it has been one of the biggest challenges for buyers and their clients.
“In the last five years, we've started to see content living on more and more platforms,” she says. “Digital is still so new.”
At several points in her career, Richman says she entertained opportunities to work at a network, but that nothing felt right until the Lifetime position. Richman says she is getting some helpful pointers from her partner Jeff Lucas, executive VP of ad sales for MTV Networks Entertainment Group.
Now, Richman brings her vast ad buying experience to bear at Lifetime. Along with the flagship network, Richman also heads sales for Lifetime Movie Network and Lifetime Real Women. On the digital side, Lifetime is pushing its Website, Mylifetime.com, and has a content partnership with women's site Glam Media.
Richman says she is particularly excited to craft deals—both for TV and new media—for Lifetime's new prized acquisition Project Runway, the fashion reality show it recently poached from Bravo, with a lot of publicity about the deal acquisition. “Getting Project Runway is going to open up huge deals for us,” says Richman, who is a fan of the show. She also expects Runway to raise Lifetime's online profile: “It is going to immediately drive visits to the site.”
She says these assets and, of course, Lifetime's well-established programming—including its beloved original movies and popular drama Army Wives—will drive new business. “My job is to get us out on the street and make us more visible and more important,” Richman says. “We are the experts in women and the No. 1 net for women, and we have a lot of value.”
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