As the Association of National Advertisers-facing internal conflicts between its media and its marketing members-and the American Association of Advertising Agencies declined to take stands on the drastic changes in media ownership rules being debated by the Federal Communications Commission, it was Mr. Mandel who stepped into the vacuum.
Mr. Mandel became one of the few Madison Avenue voices in the battle. First he served as an informal adviser to the FCC on behalf of Four A's, explaining how media buying worked and why TV and print aren't simply interchangeable with radio, or vice versa, if pricing in one medium got too high.
Later he actively opposed some of the rules as part of a coalition, testifying at a Senate committee hearing, submitting testimony to the FCC, appearing in press conferences and quickly becoming the most vocal spokesman for the advertising industry in the fight.
It was not without risk. Mr. Mandel negotiates with some of the same media companies with which he was arguing against consolidation. Then again, it was also a little odd that he didn't have more vocal support from other media buyers and from marketers because fueling his cause was a concern that media companies would hike ad rates.
Afraid to speak
"I don't know why people are afraid of opening their mouths," says the 51-year-old Mr. Mandel. "There were people whom I work for who didn't understand what I was doing. But then I was also getting praise from clients-often not our clients-and a good number of my peers."
The battle continues with congressional wrangling and court challenges far from over. Mr. Mandel says the main cost to his business hasn't been money. It has been time.
"It was costly from a time standpoint. I didn't want to look at it. I felt I have an obligation to my clients and to the industry, and at the end of the day, the cost wasn't tremendous. All the data we provided we already had, and it just meant throwing some people at it."
He says he thinks one reason others didn't speak up was because there was an assumption they needed a lawyer.
Mr. Mandel says the real irony of his role is that while marketers that didn't speak up stand to benefit from his actions, media buying companies actually could lose money if consolidation doesn't take place. Media buying fees are based on total spending, which means that increased media costs could generate more money for media buyers.
Mr. Mandel says his experience in the political arena hasn't given him any great desire to leave advertising and enter politics.
"I have too many skeletons to run for anything."
Mr. Mandel says the level of interest in the issue has been a surprise. "The FCC never received so much comment in history and that was without real publicity. Can you imagine what would have happened if it had received real coverage? I think it was an issue that the media companies wanted contained in the Beltway, but that spread."