MEDIA MAVENS;MANAGING INDEPENDENCE KEEPS MEDIA EDGE AHEAD OF THE CURVE;BETH GORDON

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For Beth Gordon, smart negotiating isn't a skill just to be used on behalf of clients.

The managing director of media service Media Edge has deftly used a combination of toughness, smarts and leverage to manage her career-a career that had an uncertain future when MacManus Group, parent of D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, agreed in June to buy Media Edge's parent, N.W. Ayer & Partners.

A conflict between Media Edge client AT&T Corp. and DMB&B client SBC Communications meant Ms. Gordon's unit couldn't be part of the deal without shrinking in size. So Ms. Gordon, 46, convinced AT&T that Media Edge should be sold to one of the company's other four agencies and allowed to operate independently.

HARDLY CRAZY ABOUT IDEA

Those agencies weren't crazy about the idea initially. But they wanted the unit's $300 million in AT&T billings, and three of them eventually made bids. Ultimately, Young & Rubicam, New York, bought the unit for $3.5 million.

Ms. Gordon had to leave some of her staff behind to serve continuing Ayer clients, but the rest of the service has become an autonomous part of Y&R Inc.

"She's probably the smartest woman in town," says Mike Neavill, media director at AT&T, who has worked with Ms. Gordon for 20 years. "She's always looking for ways to keep us ahead of the curve."

OVERCAME TROUBLES

Ms. Gordon, who shuns the spotlight and didn't respond to repeated requests to be interviewed for this article, took charge of Ayer's media department about four years ago. Despite ongoing financial and management woes at the agency, the department was one of the most respected in advertising.

One of her first steps was to set up a management committee, consisting of about eight directors representing different disciplines such as national TV, spot TV, planning and research.

Observing the rise of independent media services, she then convinced Ayer to become one of the first agencies to spin off its media department. In 1994, Media Edge was set up as a unit that could handle Ayer clients but could seek its own media-only clients as well.

"I think that was a brilliant move," says Steve Farella, exec VP-media services at Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor, New York. "It was a matter of distancing a department that had a good reputation from an agency that was in turmoil."

The move turned out to be a good one for both Ayer and Ms. Gordon's team.

For Ayer, Media Edge helped keep important clients on the roster at a time when others were fleeing. Chief among those: AT&T, a longtime Ayer client that kept about half of its media account at Media Edge even as it was cutting Ayer's creative assignments.

WINNING MORE CLIENTS

For Ms. Gordon and her staff, the spinoff enabled Media Edge to win a number of smaller clients that weren't on Ayer's roster, including some other ad agencies.

Earlier this year, Media Edge entered into an arrangement with W.B. Doner & Co., with offices in Southfield, Mich., and Baltimore, to buy network TV time for some Doner clients in exchange for Doner helping its clients with spot buying in certain markets.

Media Edge also has a deal with International Federation of Advertising Agencies that could lead to buying assignments from some of the 55 member agencies, most of which are small, independent shops.

Colleagues and clients describe Ms. Gordon as a great manager who inspires loyalty and respect among those who work with and for her.

Says Mr. Neavill: "Her folks adore her."

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