The Second-Best Way To Make a Living

Turner would rather be a Yankee third baseman

Okay, it may not be as good as playing third base for the Yankees (a one-time dream way back when), but NBC Sales and Marketing President Keith Turner says selling TV time is the next best way to make a living.

Of course, at this stage in his career, Turner does less actual selling than he does managing the team that generates between $6 billion and $7 billion in ad sales each year for NBC and co-owned Bravo, Telemundo and CNBC networks.

Turner has always been competitive. He was a three-letter varsity athlete in high school and played baseball in college, where he realized that his abilities were somewhat less than those mandated by George Steinbrenner. Nevertheless, he remained an avid basketball player right up until about two years ago when a hip replacement put the kibosh on his participating in joint-pounding team sports.

Turner developed an early interest in media, which was fostered by an uncle, Tom Turner, a radio ad sales veteran. Turner says that his uncle was "my hero growing up and probably the best sales guy this business has ever seen." Indeed, Uncle Tom had a major influence not just on Keith's career but on the careers of his two brothers as well: Bob is group president at InterRep; Brian, a former radio executive, is now in outdoor advertising.

After graduation from college, with Uncle Tom's help, Turner secured interviews with a slew of radio stations in New York City. Turner recalls that the basic response was "You're a nice kid; now go learn something about the business"—somewhere else, that is.

Turner interviewed with some ad agencies and got hired by Grey Advertising in 1976. Three years later, still itching to break into sales, he accepted a job at TV rep firm TeleRep.

Six months after that, however, Grey came back to him with an offer he couldn't refuse: a vice presidency in the network-negotiation group, reporting to Jon Mandel, who is now co-chief executive officer at Grey buying arm Mediacom.

In 1982, CBS came knocking with a dream job for big sports fan: selling ads for CBS Sports. He did that for five years.

In 1987, NBC lured Turner away with an offer to sell prime time TV and the opportunity to return to sports sales at some point. That opportunity arrived in 1990 when Turner was promoted to vice president, sports sales, at NBC. Two years later, he added responsibility for Olympic sales.

"For a sports fan and someone who wanted to be around the sports business, that was an unbelievable opportunity," recalls Turner, noting that, at the time, NBC had pro football, basketball, baseball, golf, tennis and the Olympics. "It was the best job in the city."

Other than playing third base for the Yankees, of course.

Asked to name the most exciting deal he ever did, Turner responds that it "had to be the 1996 Olympics." Indeed, he helped change the way the games were sold, selling exclusive packages to General Motors, Coke, Visa and others for what had previously been categories shared by competitors.

The games logged a then-record $500 million in ad sales and were back in the U.S. after a 12-year absence. "Expectations were great, the economy was good, and the political situation was calm," Turner remembers. "It was probably the most fun I ever had in my life."

Now that he's running the place, he still has fun but focuses more on "leadership, direction and where we want to go." The direction is up, of course, in terms of revenue.

How to get there? "By teaching and coaching and getting the most out of your people. You do that, and you can get your numbers."


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