Bill Cella

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Just call him magna-ficent.

Bill Cella, one of the few universally recognized good guys in a sometimes cutthroat business, was recently tapped to run what's being billed as the largest media negotiating unit in the world, Interpublic Group of Cos.' Magna Global, New York.

Magna has the potential to handle $39.53 billion in billings worldwide, according to Advertising Age's revised list of media specialists (AA, July 23). That includes the network TV, syndication and cable spending power of the entire client list of Interpublic's media shops, Initiative Media and Universal McCann.

Magna's purpose is to use that leverage to achieve discounts and added-value deals for clients that are placing ads at consolidated media empires such as AOL Time Warner and Viacom.

"He's a very nice man," says a top media agency executive who requested anonymity. "Perhaps too nice for that job."

Indeed, Mr. Cella, 52, as Magna's chairman will have to play hardball now against bulky media sluggers, such as AOL Time Warner's Gerald Levin and Viacom's Mel Karmazin, each legendary for striking tough bargains.

"I don't think nice means not being tough," says Andrea Alstrup, corporate VP-advertising at John-son & Johnson, one of Magna's clients. "Bill doesn't let the big job go to his head. He can be tough-very, very tough. ... That doesn't mean he is not nice."

It helps that Mr. Cella has worked both sides of the fence. His first job was selling radio at WDOX in New Rochelle, N.Y. He then moved to TV at ABC-owned stations in Detroit and Chicago, then back to New York, selling spot TV. He sold prime time for ABC in the Big Apple and finally was VP-dayparts at ABC Sports. He crossed to McCann-Erickson in 1984, working exclusively on Coca-Cola Co.

John Dooner, then president-chief operating officer of McCann-Erickson Worldwide, was instrumental in hiring Mr. Cella as exec VP-director of broadcast and programming. "He had one of the greatest reputations in the industry, period. He came up in this business the old-fashioned way-he earned it," says Mr. Dooner, now CEO of Interpublic.

It didn't hurt that the two played Little League together. Mr. Dooner played for the New Rochelle Royals as a second baseman, while Mr. Cella worked the infield for the Federals. Both made the all-star team. "And we really were 12 years old!" quips Mr. Dooner.

According to Mr. Cella, Magna performed a test run during the spring upfront, in which he negotiated cable deals for Universal McCann and Initiative clients.

"We have been executing live-testing in the cable marketplace," is how Mr. Cella puts it. When Ad Age spoke to Mr. Cella, he was planning an off-site meeting with Magna's advisory panel. "We'll do a postmortem on the upfront," he says, "to see what we did good and what didn't work well ... It's a live test, so to speak. "

Magna's next mission is to address the fourth-quarter scatter market, negotiate for some sporting events and prepare for next year's upfront, Mr. Cella says.

"It will be a work in progress initially but we'll do fine," Mr. Cella says. "I'm very confident."