It's unusual for someone who has spent 30 years with an organization to be in charge of changing the way it does business, but that is Linda Rene’s role as executive VP for primetime sales and innovation at CBS Television Network.
MediaVest CEO Brian Terkelsen recalls that when he started the agency’s branded content unit in 2003, broadcasters were slow to meet advertisers’ needs.” It took really big thinkers and some brave folks in the sales world to lean in to the content space back then, and Linda Rene was one of the absolute champs,” Terkelsen says. “I see Linda as the kind of person who I can lean on when two things happen: The going gets rough, and two, you need someone who is willing to challenge the status quo and do things in a new and bigger way.”
Though she grew up in the Valley in Los Angeles, her family was far from showbiz—her father a doctor, her mother becoming a housewife after being a medical social worker. From the age of 10, Rene’s passion was tennis. She was a ranked junior, played at the University of Southern California and even competed in some semipro tournaments in Europe. But after a couple of months, her mom told her it was time to come home and get a job.
After Rene worked in the marketing department for World Team Tennis’ L.A. Strings, someone suggested she might want to try an ad agency. The media director of the L.A. office of Doyle Dane Bernbach heard she had played tennis for USC and hired her on the spot.
At DDB, Rene got her taste of the entertainment business working on the 20th Century Fox and Universal movie studio accounts. Her client took a job at CBS and urged her to follow. “It was a new challenge, a different way of looking at the media business,” Rene says. “I fell in love with CBS.”
She started at CBS doing sales planning on the West Coast in 1983, but the head of planning in New York urged her to move East. Rene became an account executive in 1986, when being a network sales exec was a big deal. “Cable didn’t exist. There was still this aura of network sales,” Rene recalls. She was one of about three female account execs at the time. “A lot has changed, which is great,” she adds.
In 2002, Jo Ann Ross became CBS president of sales and Rene’s boss. “Clients absolutely love her. She’s got her own way of getting things done,” Ross says. “She’s probably too modest for what she’s accomplished. She is a very important and integral part of my team.”
More Than ‘Spots and Dots’
By the time Rene became senior VP in 2004, the TV world had changed. “There was a need to do more than sell spots and dots and push to find ways to cleverly integrate or innovate,” she says. That gave her a chance to work on the entertainment side of the business, which Rene prefers to working on the numbers. She helped put advertisers into Survivor and The Great Race, as well as CBS’ scripted series.
“She’s a major force over there,” says Andy Donchin, chief investment officer at Carat. “It’s a fine line between doing the best for your clients but also protecting the integrity of the shows. She makes sure that integrations are organic and work for the client, but she also obviously represents her network well.”
Donchin also knows Rene from playing softball against her in the ad agency league. “I’d always heard that she was a super-jock growing up, and especially in tennis, but she showed herself to be worthy of the hype,” he says.
Rene eventually stopped playing tennis and picked up golf from her ex-husband. Rene could be a better player if she didn’t work so hard, says Ross: “She could be an amazing golfer if she spent as much time on the golf course as some of the men who work for me do.”
Rene has a daughter who plays field hockey and runs track. “Teenagers are not as fun as you’d think,” she jokes.
And after traveling with Amazing Race producers who speak multiple languages, Rene is learning French from a teacher in Paris via Skype. Like her job, life, it seems, offers Rene many opportunities to evolve and change things up.