Mel Berning

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Controlling an annual budget of close to $4 billion, Mel Berning is one of the most influential negotiators around. The president of U.S. broadcast at MediaVest, USA, New York, part of Starcom MediaVest Group, has worked for networks CBS and NBC before leaping to media buying four years ago. "I've been on both sides," Mr. Berning contends, " and understand everything it's about; from the rates to the weights."

At the Publicis Groupe buying operation, Mr.Berning's advantage is clear.

He's able to puncture some of the buyer/seller exaggerations that go on. Mr. Berning jokes that buyers tend to say they have less money than they do. "When budgets are down, they're flat; when they're flat, they're really up 5%." And the sellers? They say, "I've got one unit left, when they've got seven."

Named "Media Buyer of the Year" by Advertising Age sibling publication TelevisionWeek (previously Electronic Media) in 2001, Mr. Berning has moved up the career ladder rapidly.

The executive helped secure the $800 million Kraft Foods assignment and negotiate a major cross-media pact with Procter & Gamble Co. Other clients include Capital One, Masterfoods and Paramount Pictures.

Tom Campanella, exec VP-worldwide marketing at Paramount Pictures, believes he is one of Mr. Berning's most testing clients, especially given the rate at which movie schedule dates change.

"The movie business is a very demanding business, Mr. Campanella says. "You have to be a certain kind of person. Mel is a guy who keeps his cool and puts forth a professional attitude in his world. In our business, he's created relationships with the networks."

One of Mr. Berning's early deals was an all-encompassing cross-platform deal with Viacom Plus. He put the partnership together and it's now in its third year.

What began as an easy way for clients to buy across a plethora of outlets has grown to encompass product placements, sponsorship, vignettes and other kinds of value propositions.

He's also negotiated joint deals between P&G and Discovery Networks, an alliance in its first year. P&G supports Discovery's makeover show "Trading Spaces," which airs on TLC (The Learning Channel), a Discovery-owned channel.


This year, Mr. Berning has been busy getting to know independent producer Cleveland O'Neal and Keisha Knight, the actress who used to play Rudy on "The Cosby Show." P&G is working with her on a variety of ideas as part of an alliance with Viacom's UPN network.

Mr. Berning says that such talks are aimed at getting marketers closer to a more diverse audience and are no doubt driven by his insider knowledge of the network side.

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