FEEDING THEIR CAREER AMBITIONS DINNER CLUBS GIVE AD, MEDIA EXECS INFORMAL MILIEU FOR THEIR NETWORKING

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Some people measure their career pace by corporate titles, how much they earn and how long it took to earn them. Others do it with calories.

By that measure, some of the most powerful people in advertising and media each have consumed about 360,000 calories in the past 10 years furthering their professional endeavors.

Those calories have fueled some pretty insatiable careers, including General Motors Corp. media czar Phil Guarascio, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. VP-Marketing Services Pete Spengler, Multimedia Pres-ident Doug Greenlaw and Home Shopping Network President Gerry Hogan.

Others are rising or former industry stars: consultant Jack Myers, Variety Publisher Gerry Byrne, former Playboy Publisher Chuck Stentiford and former Urban General Chairman Frank Brady.

All agree their careers were accelerated, at least in part, by a supper club they unabashedly call the Fast Lane Group.

"I got the idea from reading Lee Iacocca's book," said Mr. Greenlaw, reminiscing recently about the group's roots during its 10th anniversary dinner at Manhattan's posh Water Club.

The former Chrysler chairman's book told how he and other Ford executives developed the concept for Ford Motor Co.'s Mustang at a series of dinner meetings called the Fairlane Committee.

While no car ideas have been driven by the Fast Lane, Mr. Greenlaw said it has spawned some powerful connections.

For example, Mr. Greenlaw was head of sales for the Family Channel when the group started, but now runs one of the U.S.' most powerful multimedia companies. Mr. Guarascio was media director of Benton & Bowles, but now is considered by many to be the most powerful advertising man in media in his post as VP and general manager-marketing and advertising for GM's North American Operations.

Other Fast Lane members have greatly enriched their careers via the association.

Mr. Myers, for example, has built Myers Communications from a small cable industry consultancy into an influential research enterprise.

His association with the group also helped lead to Television Production Partners. The consortium of some of the most powerful TV advertisers was created to fund and develop network TV programming.

But Bristol-Myers' Mr. Spengler said the group's benefits haven't always been so tangible.

"It's been a great place to exchange ideas and bounce things around people you know and trust," he said. "The best part of it is that nothing leaves the table, so you can really share things."

But most significantly, the group also has helped inspire others, some with slightly different agendas, but all with the same goal of networking career associations.

One such group of women advertising and media executives doesn't have a name, but helped spark the name for a new business.

The women's group was organized nearly two years ago by former Whittle Communications' Special Reports sales chief Beverly Weinstein. In turn, the group helped create Ms. Weinstein's new business, a TV sales company founded with fellow dinner group member Diane Seaman, who had been a senior sales executive at NBC and Fox before taking a leave from the business.

Ms. Seaman and Ms. Weinstein conceived of their new venture while dining with the group at the Markham restaurant in Manhattan and, as a result, named their business Markham Media.

"It's certainly the most exciting thing that's come out of it," said Betsy Frank, exec VP-director of strategic media resources of Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, New York, a member.

The women's group also includes Bristol-Myers Director of Marketing Services Peggy Kelly, ABC VP-Sales Marketing Madeline Nagle, Nielsen Media Research Senior VP-Marketing Tony Smith, Advertiser Information Services Exec VP Lorraine Antoniello and non-profit event organizer Nancy Drexler, with Karen Communications.

"I'm not going to say we don't talk gossipy things about other people. We do. But that's not all that it's about," Ms. Frank said.

Two other powerful dinner groups, meanwhile, have been established by George Babick, VP-advertising sales of the Television Food Network and a former executive at Tribune Entertainment.

While still at Tribune's Chicago headquarters, Mr. Babick formed a dinner group consisting of Chicago magazine Editor in Chief Richard Babcock, Playboy Managing Editor Jonathan Black, McDonald's Corp. Worldwide Media Director Bruce Smith and Leo Burnett USA Senior VP-Media Director Jack Hanrahan.

Since moving to New York, Mr. Babick organized another dinner group consisting of Saatchi Senior VP-Associate Director of Strategic Media Resources Erica Gruen, Grey Advertising Senior VP-National Broadcast Jon Mandel, Tribune Entertainment Senior VP-Ad Sales Rick North, Tribune Broadcasting VP Richard Stone and some transient members. The group, called Media Salon, meets the first Wednesday of every month.

"It's a terrific opportunity to talk to people in an unguarded environment," Mr. North said.

That's the same benefit Fox network account exec B.J. Arnold gets from a fledgling New York-based Up-&-Comers group of young media executives.

The group, mentored by Fast Lane member Jack Myers, includes Ogilvy & Mather Senior Buyer Dina Bloch and CNN account exec Linda Perry.

"For me, the networking part is secondary," said Fox's Mr. Arnold. "What I enjoy about it, is that you can find out how people think on the other side of the fence, in an unguarded environment, where people aren't afraid to talk."

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