MEDIA MAVENS; LOOKING FOR A SIGN? TRY SEMIOTICS ON TV;ZENITH MEDIA;BETSY FRANK

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Betsy Frank never thought she'd be working in advertising and TV while studying for her masters in art history at Hunter College in New York.

Now, she can't imagine not doing what she does: watching and analyzing new TV shows in order to advise the agency's media buyers.

"My parents told me to get a job while I was a graduate student," Ms. Frank remembers. "I started answering phones at a company that produced TV ads. But I stayed longer than my classes lasted and found I really enjoyed the business world. I no longer wanted to be a teacher."

But Ms. Frank's maven status in the industry comes not merely from her counsel to Zenith staffers. Instead, it comes from her standing in the TV business. Show producers bounce new program ideas off her, and reporters frequently use her as a source for stories.

Ms. Frank was quoted in 87 stories in major U.S. newspapers and magazines in 1994, according to a search of a news service database. And a New York Times Sunday magazine story last year said Ms. Frank had become "an opinion maker to a public that is increasingly hungry for the early inside scoop on television."

"She's a real fan of network TV. She's always fair and examines programs from every aspect possible," says Ted Harbert, president of ABC Entertainment. "Since there is so much money at stake, it's good to know there is someone who takes media analysis very seriously and is very concerned about doing a good job. I listen to her ideas and take what she has to say quite seriously."

Ms. Frank was working for Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample in TV research when the agency was taken over by Saatchi & Saatchi Co. in 1978. She's been with Saatchi ever since, becoming an exec VP for Zenith when it was spun off from the parent company just six months ago.

"I love my job and I love TV," says Ms. Frank, who's reduced her media presence in the past year due to Saatchi's restructuring of its media department. "I don't love everything on TV but I love its power and changeability. I love looking at how people watch TV and I especially love finding new ways to evaluate TV."

Indeed, for the new fall TV season she used a rather unconventional approach to evaluate the coming shows. She and her team of analysts didn't abandon quantitative analysis, such as looking at time slots and competition; they did, however, incorporate semiotics, the study of signs and symbols and their meanings in our culture, into their evaluation process.

Zenith hired an anthropologist trained in semiotics to watch the shows and answer the questions: How does this program relate to today's society, and to whom would this program most likely appeal?

"It offers us an additional insight into who might watch the program, and who almost certainly would not," Ms. Frank says. "I believe the best way to service our clients would be to `follow the consumer.' I think what separates Zenith's analyses from that of other agencies and media companies is that we focus not just on media themselves, but on how consumers are using the media and how that usage is changing."

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