A Rep Who Swings For the Fences

Petry CEO Earl Jones has his rep firm poised for a profitable digital future
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Determination, and imagination in the clutch have defined Jones' career. As chairman and CEO of Petry Media Corp., he now runs the respected industry firm with a 76-year history in media representation. Petry provides advertising sales and advisory services to over 300 client television stations, from Gannett to Hubbard Broadcasting.

Jones arrived at Petry in 2005 with a wide-ranging resumé few industry executives can claim: station owner and operator, advisor for media-sector M&A deals, even partner and director of the NBA's Denver Nuggets. But in this, Jones' second stint at Petry, some 30 years after his first early-career tour, he is in the midst of steering the Petry legacy to new playing fields, and digital horizons.

“Coming back to Petry was a labor of love,” says Jones. “I always wanted to take it to another level.”

A Life-Altering Event

Jones was thrust, early on, into the center of one of the country's darker chapters. On May 4, 1970, he was among a crowd of student protesters on the Kent State campus when the National Guard opened fire, killing four people. Jones, a journalism major and active in the school newspaper, was at the front of the crowd when the shooting started. “A bullet missed me by four or five inches, I could feel the heat of it,” Jones recalls, “It affected me dramatically.”

Jones was planning to do graduate work in international studies, but the episode left him shaken and he took a year off to play music.

His entry into the media business came after that year, at the suggestion of a friend at RCA Records, who set up an interview with a colleague at Grey Advertising. Jones was hired as a media buyer.

In 1973, he jumped to Petry, and spent four years at the storied firm as an account executive.

“He was one of the most knowledgeable and effective salesmen I knew,” says Robert Riesenberg, of Omnicom Full Circle, whom Jones worked with in those days. “There was no such thing as not getting the sale.”

That talent helped Jones land the national sales manager post for Washington D.C.'s independent WDCA in 1977. Coming to a station that had posted 14 consecutive years of losses, Jones became instrumental in turning its fortunes and was quickly elevated to general sales manager. Under his watch, WDCA quadrupled its billings in three years.

“I was lucky to work at a top 10 station,” Jones says.

It led him to bigger challenges when he and an investment group founded an independent station, KTXA in Dallas/Fort Worth, in 1980. Then, in 1982, that same group launched a second independent station, KTXH in Houston. The group sold them off in 1984 for $175 million, a then-record price for a sale of stations less than five years old.These would be the first in a string of major market station plays.

After a four-year run as partner and director of the NBA's Denver Nuggets, Jones created International Broadcast Systems, a company specializing in privatization services, international ad sales services and program distribution. The company assembled a portfolio of clients that included networks in Chile and Spain and station TF1 in France.

Happy Homecoming

The back-and-forth of IBS led Jones, starting in 1992, to spend 10 years as a private investor and an independent advisor on various media and technology merger and acquisition transactions. This granted him more time to spend traveling with his wife Vicky, and two young sons Earl III (now 23) and Greyson (now 19). But the lure of bringing his career full-circle arose when, along with his duties as founder of Jones-Sagansky Broadcast Group, he returned in 2005 to the familiar territory of Petry, this time as chairman.

Jones arrived with a plan to establish an international and digital presence. Coming in from the outside with fresh eyes, he saw the perception of rep firms as being too low profile.

“I wanted to change that,” he says. “Reps create value.”

His first step in marshalling more exposure for Petry came with the opening of the company's first international office in London. The new division made a big splash by landing Eurosport, the largest European sports network.

Jones next set his sights on the Internet, launching Digerati iSales in June; the division's sole purpose is to put national ads on client web sites.

Jones also knows that capitalizing in the digital space means having a clear strategy for the 2009 DTV transition. He has been an advocate for advanced planning, beyond the duplication of the station channel in HD.

“No one knows how stations will use that space,” Jones says, “but if all these new stations are not generating revenue, that's not good for our clients.”

The Future is Here

While the new initiatives may grab the attention of the Petry observer, Jones doesn't let it cloud his vision of what is most important to the firm.

“Our main goal is to improve the core business for our domestic clients,” he says, “We're putting a lot of money into feet on the street, because that's where it benefits our clients the most.”

Petry is not wasting time in preparing for a busy 2008 that will include one of the most hotly contested political elections, and the Beijing Olympics. He anticipates Petry will bill over $2 billion.

“I'm extremely bullish on free over-the-air broadcasting,” Jones says.

These will be yet more opportunities for Petry—and the one-time account exec who's now running the vaunted rep company—to swing beyond the fences.

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