Spending $6 billion per year, Chris Geraci, president of broadcast at media agency OMD, is one of the most influential people in television. It’s pretty exclusive territory for a man who nearly didn’t get his first job when he was asked during an interview about his hobbies and replied he liked to read books.
Geraci grew up on Staten Island. His dad taught marketing, and copies of Ad Age showed up at home. He took an advertising course at Pace University, where he built an early computer database for the college’s marketing department. The agency exec that taught him got him an interview at BBDO.
“I thought, he’s not going to work out,” recalls Steve Grubbs, who was then in charge of broadcast buying at BBDO. Most of the people in the agency’s broadcast group at the time were more outgoing; Geraci was different, quieter and more introspective. He also met with three people who worked for Grubbs, “The other three were very high on him, so we ended up hiring him and they proved me wrong,” Grubbs says.
When Grubbs moved up to head buying at OMD, promoting Geraci “was the easiest, least controversial promotion decision I ever had to make,” Grubbs says. “He had the complete support of the team and people respected the fact that he was smart as hell and he treated everybody honestly and fairly.”
Geraci never really left BBDO. He went to OMD when it was the buying arm for BBDO and the other Omnicom agencies, and stayed with OMD as it became a world-class media agency. “Perhaps it’s been one 401K plan, but it feels like more than one company,” Geraci says.
When Toby Byrne, now president of ad sales for Fox Networks Group, was starting out in the business, Geraci was his supervisor at BBDO. From Geraci he learned about having integrity and doing business the right way. “In a business where you’re constantly trying to solve each other’s problems and doing really large transactions, there has to be integrity, and I don’t know that there’s anyone in this business that has more of it than Chris,” Byrne says.
Geraci says he’s proud that many successful media professionals started their careers on teams he managed at BBDO and OMD. “Having most of them keep in touch, and often remind me that working under my watch was where they learned the most, did their best work, or had the most fun is truly satisfying.”
Monica Karo, CEO of OMD, said clients believe “that he really thinks about their money as if it were his money.” And while he always puts the agency’s clients first, “he has always been an incredible, honest, open and transparent partner to all of the media companies that we deal with.”
Like others Geraci has done business with, Karo describes him as a very calm, even-keeled person. “I think that helps in a lot of situations,” she says, adding, “He can be passionate about some things as well.”
In fact, on rare occasions, he’s been known to blow his stack—and win a negotiation that way. Geraci downplays whatever strategic value those eruptions might have. “You have to have your guard up. We’re handling billions of dollars and the most well-known brands in the world, so at times it can get pretty tense. And you’ve got to let people know when they’re crossing a line, no doubt about it,” he says.
His roster of clients includes leading brands such as Apple, McDonalds, Nissan, PepsiCo and Federal Express.
Donna Speciale, president of sales at Turner Broadcasting and a former senior media buyer herself, says Geraci understands the relationships that make the business go round. “I see it now on this side differently than I did competing against him,” Speciale, who is also a 2015 B&C Hall of Fame honoree, says. “He’s so calming, but very forceful. If a deal can’t work, he gives you all the reasons why, but when it can work, he’s all in.”
One deal Geraci went all in on came when CBS and producer Mark Burnett pitched a new show called Survivor. “Chris was in every one of those meetings and BBDO and its clients were the early adopters of Survivor and we did great work with them. He was very forward-looking, even back then,” recalls Jo Ann Ross, now president of sales for CBS.
“We built some pretty cool integrated deals into that show,” Geraci recalls. “The way we put those two things together—a negotiation on the deal side as well as managing all the moving parts on the integration side—it was probably held up as a standard for many years going forward as to how those things should work.”
Geraci also recalls how Survivor’s ratings grew week after week. “It was almost like, how much higher can this thing go,” he says. “It made that negotiation for season 2 a little bit more interesting than it needed to be with CBS.”
Ross also remembers Geraci doing early deals in which his clients sponsored shows with limited commercial interruptions. “He and his team over there are pretty creative,” she says. “You know he’s going to work as hard as he can to get the best deal for his clients.”
Another mold-breaking deal came when OMD became the first agency to buy ads on ABC’s online full-episode player.
Now Geraci’s job encompasses all forms of video and he keeps an eye toward the future as technology creates new ways to deliver content to consumers. “Because of the clients that we have, because of the brands that we represent and the expectations of those clients, I wouldn’t be doing my job right if I wasn’t looking for that sort of stuff and making it happen when the opportunity presented itself.”