Jon Nesvig, President, Sales, Fox Broadcasting Co. EVP, Fox Television
You can tell a lot about people when times get tough. After the death of his son Tim in 2005, Jon Nesvig, president for ad sales for Fox Broadcasting, set up a medical research fund in his memory. The industry embraced him and his cause, a testament to Nesvig's personal and professional stature in the business.
"His compassion and empathy in creating the Tim Nesvig Fellowship for the City of Hope is his biggest accomplishment," says Comcast Networks President of Ad Sales and former colleague David Cassaro. "He has created something that will spare many people the pain of losing a child or loved one to lymphoma. In my book, this says a lot more about Jon Nesvig than the billions of dollars of value he has created for Fox and News Corp."
"He's rallied the industry around this cause because people love Jon so much," says Joe Abruzzese, president of ad sales at Discovery and another former coworker.
The outpouring touches Nesvig. "I'm just grateful and pleased, and certainly my family is, that the industry has supported Tim's research fund," he says. The City of Hope Golf Classic raised more than $1 million this year. "It feels like family, like a close group of people that are coming together to support this, which is terrific."
On the business side, Nesvig has built his reputation with a no-nonsense approach and by keeping an even keel, even when others might want to turn a negotiation into a battle.
"To refer to Jon Nesvig as ‘the dean of network sales executives' does not begin to touch on his importance to both Fox and the broadcast industry," says News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch. "He is a true gentleman-a man whose word binds more firmly than any contract. He's an aggressive negotiator, but his ultimate goal is to ensure that his clients receive only the best."
Former NBC Sales President Keith Turner recalled that years ago there was one salesman working for Nesvig whose shaky deals would get his goat. "Of course we would howl, because you'd never see Jon mad. There's not a more honorable, decent guy in the business," Turner says. "What I loved when I worked for him was that he'd say: ‘Look, this doesn't have to be as tough as we make it. Let's just figure out how to do good business. Let's figure out a way to keep customers happy. And then let's go play golf.'"
Nearly everyone who worked for him does a Nesvig impersonation. "A normal ego in this business would get angry at it, or hurt or embarrassed," says Jon Mandel, former chief negotiating officer for MediaCom. "Jon has a sense of humor about himself and he can laugh at it. He knows about the impersonations and he finds them quite amusing. And they're always done with affection."
Asked about his demeanor, Nesvig recalls the famous quote about keeping your head when all around you are losing theirs. "I would like to-I'm not sure I do," he says. "My flares are quick spikes and then go. You try not to get pissed off over business anyway, because you've got to figure out a way to make it work." And make it work he has.
"You look at the way he handled [upfront] marketplaces year after year after year, and there's a history of nailing them all. Very few others can claim that. Everyone else either overplays or underplays their hand," says GroupM chairman Irwin Gotlieb. "He's probably got the single-best record of consistent performance."
Nesvig says his preparation isn't unique. He watches the economy and stays in close contact with clients. More importantly, he's not afraid to move before the herd.
He remembers avoiding the 1990-91 recession by going to market while the other
networks were considering modifying the guarantees they offered clients. "We ended up writing so much money in the upfront that we had to give some back," he recalls. And this year, he moved quickly again, shrugging off criticism from rivals that Fox sold too cheaply.
"I think the two or three years when we've done something significantly or somewhat different than what the market has expected, or what the other networks were planning on doing, have probably been the best moves," Nesvig says.
Nesvig began his career on the agency side, but quickly decided that "sales looked like a better career path." He moved to ABC Radio, where he pestered one client so much that the client urged NBC to hire Nesvig "so he gets off my back about radio."
Nesvig rose to VP at NBC, but decided to leave when it was bought by General Electric. "I didn't particularly care about plastics or locomotives," he says. He opted to join the fledgling Fox network in 1989 because "I wanted to see if I could still work hard enough and take a shot. Because the GE guys might have liked me then, but I wasn't sure they'd like me for another five years, and I didn't want to be 50 and on the outside."
To get him to stay, GE offered to make him president of NBC. "I opted for a world I enjoyed and was comfortable in, I guess, rather than get into some areas that would have been a bigger title and more power, but didn't interest me as much," he says.
Back then, Fox and its UHF affiliates were being dismissed as the coat-hanger network. Nesvig brought it some credibility on Madison Avenue. "I think Jon was very instrumental in getting people at least to give [Fox] the time of day to listen to their story," says Peggy Green, vice chairman of media buyer Zenith.
Now that Fox is on top, Nesvig might seem a little old-school for a new media age, but looks can be deceiving.
Green says Fox has been ahead of the curve in many areas. "In a competitive industry, you've got to find a way to make buying Fox have more value," she says. "They've done a lot of great things in prime for our clients, and I think that all comes from the top."
Nesvig also tried to DVR-proof Fox shows by reducing commercial loads with the Remote-Free TV experiment.
"If old-school means being a good guy who knows more than he lets on, who's smarter than you are and doesn't make you think he's smarter, then it's good to be a traditional guy," says Mandel.
Nesvig's Achilles heel is being uncomfortable in front of the big crowds upfront presentations attract.
"If I never had to appear in front a group of people again, that would be OK with me," he says. "I've done OK with wine and golf, I guess."
Now at 66, how much longer does Nesvig want to sell spots? "That's a good question," he replies. "Next." --Jon Lafayette