Last April, the Advertising Women of New York honored Peggy Green's late father, Harry Meyers, for his commitment to mentoring as a longtime sales executive at Ladies' Home Journal.
Like father, like daughter. Green, named voice chairman of Zenith media in January, has made guiding others a hallmark of her 40-year career.
“She's incredibly nurturing and just a wonderful mentor,” says Lou LaTorre, president of advertising sales at Fox Cable. “People just herald her for that.”
Of course, you don't get into a position to guide the careers of others without having moved up the ranks so impressively yourself—making a mark along the way. Since she joined the industry in 1969, Green has helped pave the way for women to occupy some of its top spots; managed massive budgets shrewdly for some of the country's largest advertisers; and played a leading role in revolutionizing how TV time is bought and sold.
She says, more humbly, “I've had an opportunity to make a difference.”
She has dazzled people with her intellect, canny negotiating skills, innovative thinking, never-ending energy, passion and sense of humor. Add “wizard with numbers,” says Ava Jordhamo, Zenith's director of national broadcast. Each spring, Green's in her element when the upfront market comes, getting a handle on the prevailing trends and knowing when to cut the most favorable deals. Known as “calling the market,” her gut and grit have helped her pull the right levers virtually every year.
“She's amazingly tenacious on behalf of her clients, but she's fair,” says Arlene Manos, president of national advertising sales at Rainbow Media. “She knows that this thing comes around again and again.”
Green has done battle in more than 20 upfronts, having collectively spent many billions of dollars. “A privilege,” she says of clients entrusting her. “A responsibility that we take very seriously.”
In her role as Zenith's vice chairman—she was president of broadcast for the past seven years—she will segue into more of an oversight and advisory capacity. Showing a certain nimbleness for someone who started when 60 Minutes was in its first season, she's also charged with evaluating opportunities on platforms such as wireless devices, video-on-demand and Facebook.
“She knows how to learn from the past to solve the future,” says Marianne Gambelli, ad sales president at NBC.
Before reaching the heights of the media buying business, Green spoke another language fluently. She received an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and a master's from Columbia University in French, then taught the language in a Long Island high school. But she became disaffected, so her father encouraged her to join the ad business.
No one would hire her, however. She says she was viewed as a “bad risk.” Women were seen as eager to get married and move on, so why invest the resources in training them?
But Green was determined. Her parents had taught her not to think about any glass ceilings.
Finally, Dancer Fitzgerald Sample gave her a job as an assistant in its local broadcast group, and she very soon became a buyer for Procter & Gamble.
She married a few years later, moved to the suburbs and had a child. Then, she returned to work, “an anomaly” back then. Doubts about whether she could juggle responsibilities, however, were dispelled, and in 1978—just nine years after walking in the door—she was put in charge of all local buying for Dancer Fitzgerald.
Her multi-tasking caught the attention of a teenager who belonged to the same suburban country club. “She really served as an inspiration for me—with a big career and a family—when I was thinking of who I could emulate,” says Dawn Ostroff, now president of entertainment at The CW.
Green was then named president of Dancer Fitzgerald's Program Syndication Services group in 1979, and The New York Times marveled at her meteoric rise.
Dancer Fitzgerald merged with Saatchi & Saatchi eight years later, and Green took over the combined agency's spot business.
More striking were the added duties of heading national broadcast buying, a rarified, male-dominated area. Green was one of the first women in the high-profile post. Fox President of Sales Jon Nesvig calls it “a groundbreaker on both sides.”
“Now, there are certainly a number of women in prominent positions on the national buying side,” he says. “And that certainly helped pave the way for having women in prominent positions on the sales side.”
Green started in the three-network world where sales at ABC, CBS and NBC were headed by men. Now, all three have women in top roles.
Even today, so much of media buying works through relationships. But in the 1970s, Green says the men who ran things, while perhaps not intentionally exclusionary, were simply just comfortable with one another.
“I couldn't go to the locker room, I couldn't go to the sauna,” she says. “So I had to find another way to develop relationships.”
What's remarkable about Green is that she has spent her entire 40-year career at essentially the same agency, turning down a stream of higher-paying offers. Dancer was absorbed by Saatchi & Saatchi, which split off its media business to form Zenith in 1995.
Among many high points, when linchpin client General Mills bought Pillsbury, Zenith took over the merged business. Zenith has launched multiple brands for Toyota, and just last year became 20th Century Fox's agency.
While she didn't create the taglines, Green helped place the ads that ingrained “Where's the Beef” (Wendy's) and “Can you hear me now?” (Verizon) into the American lexicon.
By 2005, she and several others saw an opportunity to transform TV buying. For decades, program ratings—measuring the entirety of a show, both content and commercials—was the industry norm.
Then advertisers began a fight to pay only for how their ads rated. Predictably, networks resisted.
Green took a leading role in working toward what became a landmark 2007 compromise, where commercial ratings, melded with some DVR viewership, became the dominant currency.
“Conversations that she had with all of the networks really helped bring them along to the concept of commercial ratings in general,” says Kris Magel, who was at Zenith before becoming the director of broadcast at Initiative.
While continuing to excel professionally, Green has gone through some trying times recently, with the tragic death of her husband in 2003 and the loss of her son to a severe allergy attack soon after.
She says deep friendships in the industry kept her going. Having the gift of her 97-year-old mother still around also helps.—David Goetzl
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