April 13, 2010
 

My Dinner with Stanley, Part 4.

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The picture was taken on the set of "The Television Annual 1978-1979" (ABC-TV), which was the first Network Special Stanley ever Executive Produced in April, 1979 at a Studio in New York, where they taped the segment. Steven Scheuer was the Creator of the show. It is the one and only time all three anchors, Frank Reynolds of ABC, John Chancellor of NBC and Walter Cronkite of CBS were photographed together.

Part 4: In this final chapter of our dinner conversation, Stanley shares his view of the Interactive Universe, its relationship with traditional media and technology integration.

Next week, Part 5: To kick off Advertising Week, Stanley takes us through "wallet pictures" of his family and his extended family; friends, stars, creative people and executives from every major studio and media company. This much anticipated photo montage will cover media coverage from the 1950's (when he was in grammar school) all the way through to the present. Today's chapter is sprinkled with a tiny sample.

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Picture of Stanley with his dear friend Alan Silverbach, President of Television Representatives in Cannes.

Tim: The Mickey Mouse Club was the first time anyone in TV ever syndicated a multi-year series.

Stanley: That's right. Now you can clear the same kinds of shows and run any commercials you want in it. I'm about the only one of the last independent guys that still does this kind of programming. I work with the American Film Institute (AFI) which as been a client of mine for many many years. We created the "AFI 100 Years" series. We're doing a "100 Years, 100 Cheers" covering the most inspiring films. Last year we did "100 Years, 100 Best Quotes". It's been a very successful every year. This is our 9th one coming up.

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Tim: The number of stars in each special is amazing!

Stanley: It's a lot of fun besides. What it has done is really establish the AFI brand name as the leader in the field of motion pictures and film. It's also really given them an identity and a stronger brand identity with the consumer and within the Hollywood community. We've established what we call "Annual Perennials". And now the advertisers themselves wind up getting the benefit from these things. There's a lot of that. And the advertisers use promos. But most of the advertising agencies really want the volume. There's little dispute in the business that it benefits them and the networks more than clients.

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America's Bandstand leader of music, caught in the act of trying to strangle Stanley.

Tim: It's amazing that the system is still in place.

Stanley: Listen to this. I told a guy one day who came in to pitch a Multi-million $$ year-long programming deal. I told him I would do it. We agreed on the CPM. There was no real negotiation. I told him I'd buy exactly as he said. I said, "If you're selling me these shows, you've got a deal. I just have one caveat for you". He said "What's that"? I said "You got the price you wanted, you sold me the shows as you wanted, and I said OK. But if you don't run one show, or whatever shows change, I pay you 10 cents on the dollar. If I give you a firm 52 week commitment, but I want it exactly as the proposal stipulates". He said, "Well, I can't do that, because we already know we're going to change some shows." I said, "You already know"? Well, if already know you're going to change some shows, you're not selling me what you said you were".
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President Ronald Reagan and Stanley conversing about Stan's dad, Art Moger's job as press agent for Mr. Reagan when Reagan was president of the screen actor's guild.

Tim: That's crazy. The guy is essentially lying isn't he? You're probably one of the only people who does not roll over. The agency and marketer allow the networks to do that all the time; to make promises they know they're not going to keep. The networks don't have to worry, because even if the program changes or tanks they'll happily replace it with something else because the money is already booked.

Stanley: You're right.

Tim: When you started SFM, you were able to convince clients to have the creative part of their account at one shop and then move the media planning and buying to another shop like SFM. You were able to do this because large agency media departments were really back room operations and always were a secondary focus to agency management. How did you do that?

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Stanley with John Mitchell, President of Columbia Pictures Television and Screen Gems Television

Stanley: We did it better and smarter, but not necessarily cheaper. We were in business for 28 years and stayed independent all that time. We were also the first ones to add programming for our clients as well. We paved the model that all the big media agencies now follow.

Journal: It's pretty ironic that all the big agency media departments were always knocking SFM on the street and now they've all mirrored themselves after the SFM and SFM entertainment model.

Stanley: The reason for that is that what we created was the right thing. They fought it for other reasons, not the right reasons.

Tim: This is one of the reasons that I wanted to talk to you. For the last 6 or 7 years the emphasis with new media was on the technology. Now the emphasis have evolved to the realization that consumers want TV-like program experiences--sight sound and motion--on their computers and hand-held devices. The consumer is much more sophisticated and user friendly with the net because of email and because of TV's weakening grip. Do you think that the Internet can redeem the communications business--to re-light a new light bulb--to replace the old broken one you mentioned?

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Stanley: Yes, but there are a couple of complicating factors. Mitigating factors, not complicating. One, the audience that you are dealing with today is a different breed of cat. It's different than it once was. Agencies, advertisers and publisher are all now trying to start a business from the inside out, like creating interactive groups as part of big companies. The problem will this is that the two groups are different and will most likely never really integrate together. The issues are due to the tastes of young people today. Their needs are different from agency heads from an older generation. Their expectations, their desires and their needs are different. They are different from the people who are running the networks and most of the cable channels. The generational gap there is major. The advertiser is caught in-between. He doesn't know where the heck to go.

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Stanley with Shelly Schwab, President MCA-TV/Universal Distribution

Tim: A lot of stuff going on out there. It's probably even more confusing from the client's standpoint than it is from the agency.

Stanley: Right. When people come up with product placement or other new ideas that are not clear how they are going to sell something, they get put into a separate category called "reminder messages". The technology is moving so fast that it's difficult to know what's really going to take hold. There's almost not enough time in the day to watch what's going on. The fragmentation is so bad that the advertiser can't get a critical mass to launch something. It's become much more confusing, expensive and difficult.

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Tim: So what's going to happen?

Stanley: The analogy that you brought up before of giant organizations, applies that to the advertising agency. You answered your own question. That's what I said at the very beginning. The one entity that could change things is the advertiser. The advertiser is going to get pushed to such a degree that they are going to make a change. They are going to find that the current system does not deliver the dollars that they are putting out.

Tim: So what is the future going to look like?

Stanley: I think about that all the time, mostly in personal terms. I think of the world as we live in it today and what lies ahead for my children and my grandchildren.

Tim: Okay.

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Stanley: I think the most profound advancement that still gets a minor amount of attention is Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Email is going to become somewhat obsolete faster than you might think. Keyboards will be like record players. Everything will be speed dialed and voice activated. Think of every convenience we assume consumer electronics give us today. It will be standard.

Tim: That's interesting.

Stanley: Overall, all the pieces are there, Blackberry and Treo, wireless, voice activation and phone tree technology. Given the pace of technology, 10 years from now, Kids will use screen-based media like an Etch-a-Sketch. Madison Avenue won't have to differentiate between a computer, or a TV or a phone or a wireless device. It will all be wireless, GPS and e-commerce enabled. Everything will be inter-connected, your refrigerator will be connected to "Fresh Direct" and your pantry will be connected to Wal-Mart. Everything from health-care to agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, and tele-communication will be owned and regulated by a handful of major corporations. Look at what Macy's is doing as we speak. The government and big companies will be one.

Tim: What about the web?

Stanley: The world wide web will redefine who your next door neighbor is.

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Tim: What role is video going to play?

Stanley: I've been thinking a lot about that lately...

Tim:Why is that?

Stanley: When you look at the model of consumer generated content, what we're really talking about is independently produced content from sources other than the established majors. That's the same approach we took when we launched SFM Entertainment. We didn't have video cameras back then that could fit in a hand, let alone cameras in the hands of consumers and average people. No one ever thought that one day we would all have a video cam glued to the top of our computer screen so people could see us typing away.

Tim:What are you getting at?

Stanley: That what we did back then led the long and winding process to where we are and where we are going!

Tim:That's exactly right. I've always thought that, but I wanted to hear you say it.

Stanley: Personally, I think that MySpace, Facebook, Tacoda, YouTube and all of the other community sites and video-sharing sites are setting the stage for the next wave of content. I think Google has an enormous future ahead of it. I think that all the entertainment companies, AOL Networks, Viacom, CBS and NewsCorp are in wonderful position. I wouldn't discount any of the majors. That said, the studios are at once excited at how the cost of producing content is dropping precipitously, while at the same time, are dumbfounded by the fact that they may not be the generators of what it yet next to come. In 5 years, I bet there will be 1,000 different kinds of YouTube file sharing. I believe the one business that has an infinite amount of growth is the content business. The entertainment companies may largely become content aggregators rather than content producers.

Tim: Really?

Stanley: But it won't be all rosy. They'll be a huge gap between those tech savvy and those not. I also think that the world of fabrication and information pirating will be the terrorism of tomorrow, much more than it already is. Technology-based security companies like Norton will be as large as American Airlines.

Tim: Okay.

Stanley: Let's talk about what the world will look like in 20 years. Companies like Boeing will be making affordable airplanes for consumers like Ford was 100 years ago for families. When you look up at the sky, you'll see more air traffic control than we ever might have imagined.

Tim: What about marketing? How will Madison Avenue help marketers sell their products?

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Stanley: Addressable commercials will be the norm. Consumer privacy is non-existent today and it will be even worse in the future. That said, just like the rich and famous live behind gated communities, privacy will be available at a price for those who will be able to afford it, which will be steep. Advertisers will be richer in data than ever before. Data analysts will be the hot shots at agencies then, just as copywriters and art directors are now. We keep getting more specific with information with every generation. For example, in 1955, Nielsen started measuring households watching TV with household meters which measured what households were watching TV. Then in the 1970's they went to people meters which measured what people were watching TV within each household. Now Nielsen is testing new technology that people will carry which will measure what people for all media, not just television. We already know tons of information for Nielsen Supermarket scanning, what people buy, what product growth or decline trends are happening. The name of the game is going to be all about "specificity."

Tim: How about the Internet vs. traditional?

Stanley: The Internet will be traditional. The next generation of media planners today are going to be equipped with media tools and research information that boggles the mind.

Tim: Okay, but two out of three new products fail every year. Will competition be streamlined or eliminated? With consolidation as we see it today, what will the media and marketing landscape look like then?

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Stanley: Well, we already see that even with consolidation, you have competition within companies. Just look at WPP, or Omnicom or Publicis. They each own dozens of companies, all of which have their own P/L. The irony is that for as much as these holding companies rolled up all these niche service companies to provide one integrated solution to a client, given human nature and the fact that everyone is fighting for the same dollar, nothing is assured or guaranteed at all. It's still going to be chaos. Once everything is a commodity, the business is going to have to go back to relying more on relationships. There's going to be a backlash to the current environment we see today, which is based only on ROI per quarter.

Tim: Why is that?

Stanley: Because at the end of the day, a company cannot continue to succeed or reinvent itself if there's no commitment from its employees. It's Darwinian. You know, SFM Media was as successful as it was in part because we had the right business model. However, the real reason we were the first and last independent media agency was because of the people. Everyone at SFM owned a stake in its success. If we were going to win or lose, we were going to do it together. No amount of money can break the chain and link of trust and respect unless the people are in it just for the fast buck. And we've seen where that gets you.

Tim: So the good corporate citizen ideal sold to Wall Street will be blown out the window.

Stanley: Nothing is assured in life. You talk about new products failing. Yeah, they'll keep on failing but many of them will fail in testing. The cost of stocking fees in virtually every single retail environment today has already made advertisers gun shy about rolling a new product out before it's been tested 360 different degrees. If things do get rolled out and they fail on a colossal scale, it will be due to either incredible incompetence or selfish motives that you could look at as corporate sabotage.

Tim: So what does the future hold?

Stanley: There will be a bunch of bright new gals and guys at the clients who are going to take a chance and go into a new direction. Besides the community sites I mentioned, all of which are still in their first-generation stage, I think a company like Sony and a few others have some extraordinarily bright people who will lead the way.

Tim: Let's say you're graduating from college now. Whether it's a regular degree or an advanced degree, what do you think it's going to take for the next generation of people to provide a quality of life that's better for their families; to have a great career potential in communications? Is it possible?

Stanley: Yes, but it's going to be difficult to make the kind of money people used to make in traditional media. Most of the profits are going to be re-directed to Wall Street and less to annual bonuses. If I was getting out of school today I would pursue a job in cable, since they are the ones with the most integrated solutions. I would have a 5-year plan to learn as much as I could and as soon as I could afford it, I would find a way to open my own business.

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Stanley with Ken Page, EVP Sales Columbia Pictures Television, and Mr. & Mrs. Bernie Weitzman, EVP MGM-Television.

Tim: Do you think the business will need an extreme makeover?

Stanley: No. Now that things have been restructured like they are, I don't think the communications business is going to be broken up. Within the current structure, whoever can harness the Internet into a cohesive force will be able to move the industry.

Tim: Do you think the culture Madison Avenue once had is gone forever?

Stanley: The thing is, for so many years, Madison Avenue grew in measurable, manageable increments. Then new media and new Wall Street money hit us like a ton of bricks.

Tim: Okay, but on a personal level.

Stanley: Well, when I was growing up working with my father, he always associated with professionals. And then when I started in this business, we always worked with people who had the same values. Not opportunists; thoroughly grounded professionals. At the end of the day, it's always going to be about personal service, about looking beyond the deal in front of you and at the person you're dealing with.

Tim: Stanley, thank you for dinner. It was great!

Stanley: Good to see you Timothy. (said in an Irish accent) Oh, McHale, me old buddy.

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Mr. Stanley Moger can be reached at SMoger@SFMent.com

The Editors


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