Episode 9 of Insider InSites is a conversation with Arlene Manos, the President Emeritus of Ad Sales for AMC Networks on her upcoming induction into the IRTS Hall of Mentorship, taking early risks, forging new ground and becoming a mentor. Manos describes her journey from print to television, working with top shows like The Walking Dead, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad and spotting and nurturing top sales talent. Recognizable for more than her signature red-frame eyeglasses, Manos who was at the helm of A+E and AMC Networks, is also recognized as powerhouse in the ad sales and television industries.
E.B. Moss: The International Radio and Television Society Foundation - or, now as a forum for all aspects of media it’s just called “I R T S” - says that its mission is "building future media leaders." So I guess that's what mentoring is all about?
Arlene Manos: I think it is. And like so many of those names of things we used to be, like American Movie Classics becoming AMC or A&E was originally Arts and Entertainment... things grow and morph and change their direction and purpose. So initials can stand for a lot. That's exactly what has become true of the IRTS. And they do develop [future media leaders with their] intern program and the young scholars and summer programs....
Moss: At MediaVillage we've frequently gotten impressive fellows from the IRTS.
Manos: I think it’s very worthwhile. It encourages diversity and is a terrific program.
Moss: Something I read on the IRTS Web site would be a great way to frame up our conversation today: it's ultimate goal is “to bring together the wisdom of yesterday's founders, the power of today's leaders, and the promise of tomorrow's young professionals.” So let’s talk about the wisdom you've gained in the ad business from others. Who did you count on in your early stage career?
Manos: Well, Jack Myers was the first person to hire me into the television industry!
Moss: Jack Myers the founder of MediaVillage?
Manos: That's right. But looking further back...I [realize my first mentor was] a much older man at a magazine in Philadelphia. He was a very traditional guy who ran a sales force, but he never saw a difference between men and women. He thought everybody deserved a shot and was as fair as could be. And he believed in me, gave me a very fair break, and started me off in sales. ...As did Jack, when he hired me from print into television.
Moss: Jack was the local sales manager at WCBS-TV and you had been at Philadelphia Magazine and Manhattan, Inc. when he brought you on board for a new retail business development department to tap into your knowledge of high end retailers?
Manos: Exactly. Very few upscale retailers (like Bloomingdale’s and Saks) were using television, just print. My retail contacts helped the effort. At the time, it was spot-oriented, not developmentally-oriented, so there were a lot of headwinds that Jack and I navigated, forging new ground...and we put ourselves on the map with that initiative because it was a very difficult task but caught on very nicely in the fashion and retail industries.
Moss: What was your take away from that early experience of forging new ground with Jack?
Manos: I was not comfortable with, but willing to take risks ... I was pretty good at collaboration and disarming them a bit because at that point it was a hardboiled sales staff and they didn't welcome our efforts much. But, there's nothing like success and we were successful and therefore, respected.
Moss: You were selling classic movies on what had been American Movie Classics. When the brand started to evolve with top shows like The Walking Dead, how did that change how you managed the sales force and even hired?
Manos: I don't think there's any such thing as a born sales person but I look for common characteristics: energy, passion, work ethic and the ability to read other people and to read a room. Do not try to put people into a pattern or a box - managing them is as individual as who they are, and people are motivated differently. There have to be certain basics there because you can't spend all your time mentoring people. You have to see in them the ability to emulate... to pick up on best practices around them. They really learn from one another as much as they do from me.
Moss: How do you find the right balance between advising and telling? How do you coach someone?
Manos: Be direct and honest with the person, not confrontational or judgmental. You must tell them when things are not going well. They don't always love you for it, but it's not always about encouragement.
Moss: As things were rapidly evolving in the last 10 years, with number one shows on your hands, you’ve had to be innovative with advertisers. Did I read that you brought in about a billion dollars in revenue in any given year?
Manos: We're getting right up to that now. We have a whole stable of products here, beyond just Mad Men and Breaking Bad. BBC America and IFC are both very well directed in their own rights. You must know your target and know who's the right fit. Perhaps Amazon or Coca-Cola is right for a very expensive spot. However other advertisers need something different, a little more context or immersion. We’ve worked in cooperation with Samuel Adams and IFC’s Documentary Now. Samuel Adams promoted the show with a documentary kind of panel - almost like a PBS show where they were highlighting, not serving Samuel Adams beer. They were really immersed in the show – it’s something different that we could do with IFC; you can't do it with all networks.
Moss: There's a difference between branded content and product placement. Where do you see those types of tactics going?
Manos: I see them as going in exactly the way I just described it. That was a very good example of it. It meshed very nicely, you can't just plop a product in front of somebody who's drinking vodka and [on] have some Mad Men and have it be so obvious because it ruins the show. The producers won't put up with it and the audience doesn't like it either.
Moss: You have also done some pretty innovative things with The Walking Dead. I think that you've allowed advertisers to borrowstand by some content and turn it into their own sort of custom content?
Manos: That is done to some extent, you know zombies are zombies. If somebody wants to do something, you can't own zombies. There have been some clever uses of it that didn't affect the show badly.
Moss: Given all the new opportunities for content to be consumed across so many different platforms and brands to be incorporated in innovative ways, the industry is in flux. What do you recommend as a mentor? What do you recommend for the sales forces out there today?
Manos: Just expose yourself to as much as you possibly can. Go to conferences, become aware of everything and don't think that your area is not going to change because it's all changing. At this point we have invested in the streaming services, so we see things changing. Stay very alert and immerse yourself.
Moss: Who would you like to have as a mentor – even anyone in history - if you were starting out today?
Manos: Hmmm...I would go back to that man that gave me my very first chance to go into sales because I didn't even know what media sales was. I would have been a writer if had chosen a career, but I needed to make some money and he looked at me and he said, "I think you can do it." And that gave me a lot of confidence.
Moss: And then you brought others along as well. What goes around comes around, Arlene.
Manos: I have never thought of it that way. Thank you for reminding me.
Moss: Absolutely. It's been a pleasure talking to you, and learning from you. And I think this podcast will help others learn a little something in perpetuity.
Manos: That would be that would be very warming.