SFM attracts Steve Farella back to media buying realm

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No doubt the name of Steve Farella's new employer, SFM Media, gives him ample material for after-dinner speeches.

"SFM Media does not stand for Steve Farella Media," he says, tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Mr. Farella acquired the provocative punchline when he joined the 30-year-old media buying and planning firm late last year as chief operating officer. SFM -- with annual billings of more than $1.4 billion and clients that include Comedy Central, Intel Corp. and MCI WorldCom -- actually stands for agency founders Walter Staab, Bob Frank and Stan Moger.

By joining SFM, Mr. Farella moves back into the media buying fold after working on new business as exec VP-director of business development and integrated communications for creative agency Jordan McGrath Case & Partners/Euro RSCG, New York. Both SFM and Jordan McGrath are part of Havas Advertising.

"I think the industry is ratcheting up in terms of its competitiveness, and Steve's agency background will be very useful," said Mr. Frank, SFM's president.

23-YEAR CAREER

Mr. Farella, 44, began his career 23 years ago in the media department of Benton & Bowles, New York, working largely on the Procter & Gamble Co. account. In 1985 he moved to Ammirati & Puris as media director -- a position he also went on to hold at Wells, Rich, Greene and Young & Rubicam, both New York. He joined Jordan McGrath as media director in 1992.

Mr. Farella said he's seen part of modern media buying develop and feels the business is evolving again.

"If the first revolution in the media agency business was about leverage and pricing, I think the second revolution is about customer insight and media strategy," he said.

Mr. Farella says getting the best financial deal for a client, though still critical, is less important these days than coming up with an animating idea for a campaign to reach a target market. "I'm less interested in who's watching a TV program," he says. "I'm more interested in how many customers are watching a TV program."

DE-EMPHASIZING UPFRONT

Mr. Farella says the upfront buying period, when advertisers gamble on some shows whose ratings and reach are as yet unknown, is outdated. The problem is, he says, that major advertisers are afraid to bypass the upfronts, fearing that if they take a pass their competitors will see an opportunity for better deals.

The fragmentation of viewer options with the growth of cable and the Internet and shifting demographics make media planning and buying more relevant, Mr. Farella says. The job could also get a tad easier. The Internet offers media buyers nearly instant data on who is viewing ads and when. Of course, better research data also means more accountability.

"The media agency business is moving straight toward having our plans and strategies be accountable to our clients' business results," he said.

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