One yardstick is the size of the advertising budgets they influence. Another is the abundance of their press clippings.
Unlike some industries where leading media pundits may simply provide fodder for trade-press copy, media-buying pundits play an important role in the advertising industry that can actually influence the outcome and fortune of the media.
It is an incestuous relationship in which the media can advance the careers and companies of the pundits they attribute by extending them credibility -- thereby establishing them as leading media industry experts.
At the same time, these pundits can make or break media fortunes, by shaping the direction of a marketplace, or by giving early endorsements or deathblows to new media properties such as TV shows, magazines or Web sites.
For this reason, Advertising Age and Medialink PR Research have been tracking and indexing the media attentiveness of the ad industry's leading media pundits since 1997.
Medialink's proprietary SPINdex system analyzes media coverage and offers a relative measure of an individual's ability to generate a media voice. SPINdex uses a sample of trade and consumer print and electronic media outlets, but assigns greater weight to media that generate broad consumer awareness.
Not surprisingly, the leading spin mavens of the last several years have been ad executives who generally influence TV buying decisions. In particular, Paul Schulman, president of Omnicom Group's Schulman/Advanswers, New York. Mr. Schulman has led the pack for each of the past two years, followed by big media buyers such as Steve Grubbs, exec VP-director of national TV buying at BBDO Worldwide, New York; Jon Mandel, co-managing director at Grey Advertising's MediaCom, New York; and Steve Sternberg, senior VP-director of broadcast research at TN Media, New York, an influential TV scheduling analyst.
In a surprise development, none of these perennial TV darlings led this year's pack. Instead, the top-quoted ad industry media executive was among the most traditional and general in nature: a media director -- Allen Banks, exec VP-North American media director at Saatchi & Saatchi, New York. That Mr. Banks would emerge as the most-quoted ad person in media is an interesting and ironic turn of events.
It's not that Mr. Banks has been a media wallflower. He always has generated a fair amount of media attention.
Historically, however, he has delegated the role of agency spokesperson to others. In fact, it was Mr. Banks who groomed Betsy Frank to become one of the most-quoted ad executives when she was a senior executive at Saatchi and subsequently its media spinoff agency, Zenith Media Services.
Ms. Frank now is an executive at MTV Networks and, while she still is highly quoted, was not eligible for tracking in this Media Mavens edition of SPINdex.
Over the last several years, Zenith had sought -- somewhat unsuccessfully -- to find a suitable replacement for her role.
First they groomed Ms. Frank's protege, Audrey Steele, for the media spotlight. Ms. Steele garnered attention from the media, but didn't generate nearly the amount as did Ms. Frank. Ms. Steele eventually left Zenith to become a senior executive at Fox.
Zenith recently hired Helen Katz, a former VP-media research manager for Omnicom Group's Optimum Media, a unit of Chicago-based DDB Worldwide. Ms. Katz is now senior VP-director of strategic resources at Zenith, where she has had a decidedly lower media profile than her predecessors.
SURGE BY SAATCHI
Meanwhile, the emergence of Saatchi's Mr. Banks as the industry's leading media quote, signals the resurgence of the agency as an independent media powerhouse.
While Zenith executives had been charged with leading the media policy for most of Saatchi's and other Zenith partner Bates USA's media clients, the higher profile of Mr. Banks seems to indicate that Saatchi may be seeking to reassert its own media brand.
Much of Mr. Bank's media attention stems from his senior role on influential media trade groups, including leadership roles for the American Association of Advertising Agencies' Media Policy Committee and an influential Nielsen Customer Alliance task force.
He has been active on the speech and conference circuit, which has made him all the more quotable.
Interestingly, no Zenith -- or for that matter, Bates -- executives came anywhere near generating the media attention of Mr. Banks this year and they failed to even rank in the top 25 of this year's SPINdex of media executives.
After Mr. Banks, the SPINdex hierarchy is fairly conventional, with perennials such as Messrs. Schulman, Grubbs and Sternberg, Media Edge's Bob Igiel and J. Walter Thompson Co.'s Jean Pool all ranking at the top.
The ranking also reaffirms a long-standing media-spin trend that executives who speak routinely about TV get the most attention. While several print mavens made it on this year's list, both ranked near the bottom, including Roberta Garfinkle, senior VP-director of print media at McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York and Jeanne Tassaro, exec VP-director of print services at Media Edge.
Other notable media experts assigned to important topic areas failed to rank, including, surprisingly, new media and, not-so-surprisingly, out-of-home media.
For all the industry's outcries about the representation of multicultural issues in the media, many leading multicultural media advocates failed to rank, and the two that did -- Doug Alligood, senior VP-special markets for BBDO, New York, and Cheryl Harps, exec VP-director of media communications for Don Coleman Advertising, Southfield, Mich. -- ranked near the bottom.
Joe Mandese is editor of The Myers Report, a daily newsletter covering the media