DEFENDING THE IMAGE COMES FIRST IN FASHION;TARLOW ADVERTISING;RUSSELL GILSDORF

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When Russell Gilsdorf was an associate media director at Grey Advertising in the '70s, he was cutting his teeth in the business by placing ads for Revlon.

Since then, the fashion and beauty industries have changed dramatically, taking their formerly high-end merchandise to the mass market. Revlon products like Charlie and Moon Drops, once available exclusively in department stores, have made their way to drug stores and mass-market retailers though their product formulas haven't changed at all.

Well, neither has Russ Gilsdorf. Over 20 years later, he's still buying media for the same brands but with a different agency, Tarlow Advertising, New York-which, like Revlon, is part of Ron Perelman's conglomerate.

Another constant besides the 54-year-old Mr. Gilsdorf has been that while the market has changed, the advertising, in one respect, has not: Image is still everything.

As exec VP-director of media and marketing at Tarlow, he's the gatekeeper of the Revlon image, as well as for similar accounts such as The Limited Group, which includes Victoria's Secret and Express.

"These are brands that are still being advertised but in a different way," he says.

These accounts totaled $70 million in measured media ad spending last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

They also put Mr. Gilsdorf in a powerful position, as the man whose business-especially from Revlon-is coveted by numerous media outlets, most notably those in the highly competitive fashion magazine field.

It's a responsiblity he has handled with aplomb, earning high marks for being a hard-nosed negotiator so immersed in his work that he drives his bank crazy by dating his checks for 1996 as he works on ad schedules for the year ahead.

"Russ' ability to get the job done is unparalleled in the business," says Kathy Dwyer,exec VP-general manager for mass cosmetics at Revlon. "His dedication to clients, coupled with his cutting-edge approach to media, truly distinguishes him in the ad industry."

Mr. Gilsdorf's technique is simple: "If we don't get our ads in a certain place, we just don't use them," he says.

Revlon creative is rarely found in TV commercial "pods" not surrounded by high-rated prime-time shows with beautiful women like NBC's "Friends" or CBS' upcoming drama "Central Park West."

Conditions for print are even more stringent, with placement in the first 10% of pages from Conde Nast titles preferred, the right-hand page away from any competitors or distracting ads an absolute must.

"If I'm talking about a toiletry or a fragrance, I want it to appear in an environment that heightens the consumer to be predisposed to the message," he says.

Surprisingly for a man who goes about his business in the hoity-toity New York fashion and publishing worlds, Mr. Gilsdorf got his start as an ad manager with a Cleveland brewery.

He credits his success to his longevity: "I'm a dinosaur in this business."

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