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Lauren Rich Fine

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When Lauren Rich Fine discusses her predictions in Merrill Lynch's annual advertising forecast, marketing executives ignore her insights at their own peril.

Fine, one of the most quoted analysts on Wall Street regarding trends in media spending, has for 12 consecutive years been ranked in one of the top three slots on Institutional Investor's "All American Research Team." She's been ranked No. 1 eight times.

Fine joined Merrill Lynch in 1986 in the investment banker's long-term funding group and two years later moved to the equity research team. Her annual media spending forecast is a must-read for decision-makers who want clear and cold-eyed predictions on where the advertising market is headed.

"We corroborate [the report] with a very broad base of some very good analysts and then put it all together," Fine said, adding that the report benefits from Merrill Lynch's global presence. In May, Fine pegged U.S. ad growth at 5.3% for this year, up from a previous estimate of 4.6% in March. Globally, she estimates 5.1% in advertising growth this year.

Working out of her home in Cleveland, Fine is deeply patched into both the traditional and digital precincts of media. "It's fun to see who is doing what and how effective the message is embracing e-mail marketing, search marketing, by industry," she said.

At a time when b-to-b media companies are trying to figure out how much money to pump into the Internet, Fine stressed that the Web is perfectly suited for b-to-b marketing.

"The Web was made for b-to-b," she said. "There's no question that social networks should exist in b-to-b communities online. Every b-to-b industry recognizes the opportunities online. Farmers, for example, have grown very dependent on technology."

At the same time, Fine said b-to-b print publications are well-positioned to take advantage of an increasingly fragmented media environment. "Trade books are pretty targeted," she said. Users have to "be satisfied with [trade publishers'] online products, but publishers can still be profitable in print because there's a reason people read your magazine. It's more of a deep relationship."

Fine said magazines that provide business information should have an easier time adapting to the digital age than newspapers. "They're more durable products," she said. "Monthlies and weeklies last longer. If you get BusinessWeek and don't read it that day you still have six days before the information gets stale."

-M.S.

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