April 13, 2010
 

Bob to Stanley: "What's a Media Service?"

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By Bob Frank

It was in the spring of 1969 that Stan Moger called to ask for advice. At the time, Stan was an Account Executive for Storer TV Sales and I had a similar position at the CBS Radio Network. Stan had been offered an opportunity to head up a new Media Service by an existing Service that was running into product conflict.

Our conversation started while Stan was getting his hair cut, migrated to a bar and continued for several hours standing by the information booth at Grand Central Station. My opening question: "What's a Media Service"?

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We discussed the market place from our individual perspective, both having experienced the frustrations of dealing with under- staffed under-valued Agency media departments. We noted the existing competition, mostly run by ex barter people who were long on promises and promotions but short on delivery. It was a virtual snake pit, operated P.T. Barnum style that made obscene profits through nondisclosure of individual pricing and profits. Almost all were involved exclusively in local broadcast.

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Understanding the need to offer a full range of media services which would include planning as well as the purchase of all media forms, we agreed about the necessity to bring in a third partner who had the current title of VP Media Director for a major N.Y. Agency and who had print buying and planning experience. Walter Staab, who lived across the corridor from me at my condo, had the requisite qualifications.

During the ensuing years, Stan and I liked to kid Walter with the observation that he wasn't our best choice in partner, but merely the most convenient.

Interestingly, Walter suggested to his Board at Ted Bates that they start an independent Media Service. He therefore understood the opportunity and agreed to join us.

We raised our financing through "Family and Friends" and found a branch manager at Citibank to give us a two year noncallable loan on our signatures.

We decided to differentiate SFM Media and counter the bad press of our competitors by hiring key staff from the industries' mainstream, by offering a full service media department, by setting identifiable fees and by being full discloser on pricing from day one. We left the marginal Advertisers to the competition and instead pursued the blue chips.

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In short, we reinvented the business.

Shortly after we formed in the fall of '69, a multitude of new Media Services were launched from the ranks of the larger Agencies and local broadcasters. Fortunately for SFM, almost all of them specialized in local broadcast purchasing, though one specialized in TV network and almost all followed "the fast buck route" of nondisclosure. Non disclosure was increasingly viewed with skepticism by Advertisers as three operations went bankrupt and two Principles of other organizations became "guests of the state".

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Stan arranged a meeting with Rance Crain, a newly arrived executive at Advertising Age and, by the way, a son of the owner. As a result, Walt Staab earned us credibility by writing frequent articles for the publication.

The product differentiation/creditability strategy worked! Within a year, our client list included Pfizer, SmithKline, Lorillard and Dow Chemical.

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During the 60's the big Agencies, who had been heavily evolved in producing shows, eliminated their radio-TV departments. SFM, of course, continued its counter-market strategy by launching SFM Entertainment, headed by Stan.

Among Stan's successes were the re-launching of Disney's Mickey Mouse Club and the subsequent launching of a new Mickey Mouse Club. He also introduced "The Holiday Network"- movies aired 7-10 days prior to each major holiday.

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When Mobil Oil came to Walt Staab with their problem of being unable to run advocacy advertising on the networks, Stan created our own ad-hoc network in major markets using BBC reruns supplied by Mobil. Among these programs were Nicholas Nickelby, Between the Wars, When Havoc Struck and Churchill and the Generals. This public relations campaign by Mobil, accompanied by print support, was deemed highly successful. Public opinion polls indicated a favorable attitude toward Mobil as opposed the other oil companies.

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Stan expanded the concept of creating ad-hoc networks or clearing television specials on the existing major networks. The idea was to air Advertiser's commercials in an environmentally compatible program that could be the basis of a promotion.

SFM was known for innovation-breaking through the advertising clutter. Sometimes the idea was generated by our Planning or Network Departments. For example, The Super Stars concept-athletes competing in other than their own specialty to determine the best all around athlete – lay dormant until Bob Perlstein, head of SFM's network department, brought the concept to our client Fram Corporation. Fram enthusiastically signed on, however, to get this 2 hour special on ABC TV, we "bet the pot", all of our capital, to guarantee advertising support. Fortunately, The SuperStars was a great success and had a number of successful spins like The Battle of the Network Stars and Female SuperStars. It continues to air to this day, 30 years later.

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The SuperStars was the first time a sporting event was staged to be televised as opposed to a regularly scheduled sporting event. Noting the commercial success of the concept, we were not at all offended when Sports Illustrated called it the beginning of "trash sports".

The Media Service Division prospered and continued to differentiate itself by attracting blue chip Advertisers such as Norton Simon (Avis, Max Factor, Hunt Wesson and Canada Dry) American Cyanamid, American Isuzu Motors, Intel, Nike and MCI.

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As the "house Republican" I was instrumental in developing SFM's strong and long lasting association with the Republican Party. We purchased the local broadcast requirements for Nixon '72, Ford '76 and Reagan '80. SFM also planned and purchased the planning and all the buying requirements of The National Republican Committee, The National Republican Congressional Committee and The National Republican Senatorial Committee from 1980 to 1987. This was an amazing relationship considering that we were not "inner belt" Washington insiders.

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While the cornerstone of the real estate business is "location, location, location", the foundation of the advertising/broadcasting industries is "relationships, relationships, relationships". It was the recognition of this reality that enabled SFM Media Corporation to prosper.

Our management and key executive staff were extraordinarily stable thanks to competitive wages and benefits, stock participation, profit sharing and, for long-serving staffers, special bonus toward their childrens' college education.

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Senior Planners also served as Account Executives, developing close business and personal relationships. As a result, Clients and key personnel tended to stick around - most stayed for more than two decades.

It was certainly predictable that Havas, SFM's largest Agency Client, ultimately purchased SFM in 1998. Walter took the opportunity to semi-retire to spend time with his new wife. Stan opted to continue to operate the SFM Entertainment Division as an independent.

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Prior to our 30 year partnership, Stan and I went to the same grammar school, the same high school, and the same under graduate college. Knowing Stan as I do, I was not surprised that, despite the time pressures of entrepreneurship, Stan continued the SFM relationship tradition by helping to place SFM executives who have left SFM (now MPG) through the merger.

Here's to you Stanley!

Bob Frank is an independent media and management consultant and (Retired) Vice Chairman of MPG.

The Editors

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