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The best thing I can say about Alec Gerster is that he puts up with me," says Jon Mandel with a laugh. In fact, the comment speaks volumes about the kind of person Mr. Gerster is.

Mr. Mandel is co-managing director of MediaCom, New York, the media arm of Grey Advertising. His boss is Mr. Gerster, chairman of MediaCom.


"I'll be honest with you," says one top media executive at a competing shop. "For years, when I started in this business, I thought Mr. Mandel was the head of Grey's media department. Everywhere I looked in the trades or the papers, whenever anyone was quoted about media, it was Mandel saying this or Mandel saying that. And it was usually a memorable quote. I'd never heard of Alec."

Then he adds, candidly, "I don't know that I have the ego to let one of my people take that kind of spotlight totally away from me."

Mr. Gerster, 51, is a Connecticut Yankee and modest by nature.

He started his media career with a two-year stint at a small Chicago shop before moving to Grey in New York, where he quietly worked his way up the ladder.

In the last 18 months Mr. Gerster has been busy getting MediaCom up and running.

"The team continues to come together," he says. "Jon and Dene [Callas, MediaCom's other co-managing director] have a partnership that's unique, and I think it's paying off for us."


By that he means that MediaCom is moving more and more to communications planning, as marketers, such as fairly new client ConAgra, demand that their media shops give them a firm horizontal perspective of the marketplace.

"I like to call it the other side of the mirror from brand planning, which is intense knowledge of the product and the creative side," Mr. Gerster says.

Part of this notion of communications planning is keeping up with changes in the business. It is very possible that the media business will change dramatically in the next few years, Mr. Gerster notes, as digital technology, including digital TV, really comes to the fore.

"I hope the industry isn't going to get blindsided by this digital revolution," he says. "We're going to have to figure out how to get maximum utility from the digital cable environment, for one."

On that score, MediaCom is ahead of the curve, having helped broker a deal between client Kraft Foods and cable operator AT&T Media Services (then Tele-Communications Inc.) that will let Kraft in on the ground floor of changes wrought by digital set-top boxes.


As an example of how quickly the media environment is changing, Mr. Gerster points to the trafficking process.

"While essential, it's always been the least valued thing by agencies. Now, with the switch to the Internet, suddenly somebody takes traffic and renames it 'third party ad-servicing.' So now you have companies such as Match Logic and DoubleClick that are basically doing traffic, and these companies are worth millions."

Mr. Gerster says, the industry has done a good job keeping up with changes in technology.

"We're just going to have to make sure we keep up with changes in the future,

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