As a college student working in a Borscht Belt poker room, Michael Teicher, executive VP of media sales at Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution (WBDTD), learned to keep his cards close to the vest. His experiences at New York’s Concord Hotel, the famous Catskills resort where the 1987 film Dirty Dancing was set, also taught Teicher a few things about human nature, not to mention business.
The Concord’s cast of characters included “Lefty,” an amputee missing his right arm; Annie, a.k.a. “Grandma Dynamite,” whose bravado at the table was tempered by the elderly woman’s fear of walking back to her quarters alone when the poker room closed at 5 a.m.; and the biggest tipper at the predominantly Jewish resort, a Catholic bookie.
They provided Teicher with a glimpse of life he never knew growing up in the “one-traffic-light” town of Goshen, N.Y., at the foot of the Catskill Mountains. “I miss the days working at the Concord. That’s why Dirty Dancing is one of my favorite movies,” he says.
The insights gained at the Concord have helped Teicher throughout his career, which prior to Warner Bros. included pioneering roles in integrated entertainment marketing and commercial-skipping DVRs. He has also helped transform the Syndicated Network Television Association; as chairman, Teicher led a successful effort to abandon the trade group’s annual advertiser conferences this year in favor of one-on-one meetings, which he calls more useful in a 52-week sales business.
When he’s not out pitching the virtues of syndication, the 41-year-old can be found rooting for the Yankees—not only attending games in New York but even arranging mini-vacations with his 8-year-old son for away games. He starts the week by dissecting the team’s weekend performances with his boss, WBDTD President Dick Robertson.
Teicher has relied on his sports passion and resourcefulness to make it in the business. “Each time I’ve taken a job, you could argue I wasn’t exactly qualified or I wasn’t the exact fit,” he says. “But I always had the confidence that I could figure it out.”
Armed with a communications degree, Teicher—who played tennis in college—landed as an account executive at Major League Baseball Productions. He sold station and ad time for shows such as This Week in Baseball With Mel Allen.
Teicher was dealing exclusively with sports advertising and sponsorships when Turner’s David Levy came knocking. TBS and TNT had just won the rights to the NFL, and Levy, now president of Turner’s sports, entertainment sales and marketing wings, was staffing up to sell ads for his new sports division.
Teicher, having prepped friends for interviews there, knew enough about Levy’s plans to get hired as an account executive, and he began at Turner in January 1990. His next big move came when Steven J. Heyer was named to run Turner Broadcasting Sales in May 1994. Heyer, the future COO of Coca-Cola and CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, “came in with a completely different vision and a different strategy to build the business,” Teicher recalls.
In an introductory meeting, their views about how to better utilize assets meshed perfectly. The young account executive soon moved from Turner Sports to help launch Turner Broadcasting Sales’ Global Client Solutions division. The industry’s first cross-platform television sales team ultimately gave birth to similar efforts at Time Warner (which acquired Turner in 1996), Viacom and NBC, among others.
Teicher says the job was essentially an MBA in marketing for him. He built multidimensional promotions across all divisions for clients, including heavyweights like Nestlé, Discover Card, Johnson & Johnson, Sears and Anheuser-Busch.
He also visited ReplayTV, a time- shifting technology that launched within months of TiVo. After getting a glimpse of the product, the senior VP quickly assembled a team at Turner, Warner Bros. and Time Warner, which in 1999 made a $10 million investment in Replay.
Anxious to “lead a paradigm shift in the television landscape,” he says—not to mention “to get rich quick”—Teicher left Turner in March 2000 to lead Replay’s ad-sales wing. He sold Replay as a crucial consumer-data provider for emerging media platforms. “No client wouldn’t see us,” he says, “if for no other reason than we were able to skip 30-second commercials.”
The strategy worked, Teicher says, although his timing was less than perfect: He arrived days before new-media stocks crashed, squelching Replay’s planned IPO. Layoffs followed, and Teicher’s came at his eight-month mark. Still, he calls his time there the “best professional move I ever made,” giving him the confidence to take on just about anything.
Brainstorming career options with an old Turner colleague, Joe Uva (now president/CEO of OMD Worldwide), Teicher was led to Robertson, who had a vacancy at the head of ad sales. He started at Warner Bros. in January 2002, using his diverse background to identify opportunities for moving the traditional media company ahead in a challenging environment.
Robertson says Teicher is a perfect fit: “In my 41 years in the media sales business, I believe Michael is the most talented guy that I’ve had the pleasure of working with.”
The job is based in Manhattan, near Teicher’s beloved Yankees. It’s also a few hours from the Concord, where the likes of Lefty and Grandma Dynamite taught Teicher a thing or two about the business world.