Why client is No. 1

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The way the tv upfront is bought and sold should be changed, says Steve Farella, chief operating officer at SFM Media, New York, who compares it to car shopping.

The upfront should be more like a consumer at an auto dealership when no other customers are around and the salesman is in the mood to woo, says the 44-year-old Mr. Farella. That beats the situation that invariably occurs when there are seven other shoppers present vying for the salesman's attention, he contends.

The upfront is "a two-week frenzy period. I think that our clients and our business deserve a more orderly process [at a time] when all the buyers aren't talking to all the sellers at the same time," he says.


This is perhaps a typical viewpoint of a 23-year media buying veteran, who in December joined SFM, which had $1.4 billion in U.S. billings in 1999. But the seller has a different perspective.

Imagine a car dealer, with 365 cars to sell, says Dan Rank, managing partner at Omnicom's Optimum Media Direction USA. Would he "want to sell them one a day, or . . . sell them all in one day? I'd rather sell them all in one day. So would the [TV] networks. It's to their advantage. What they can say to [the buyer], is, `Listen, I've got 365 cars to sell, and the problem is I've got 370 buyers. Somebody is not going to end up with a car.' So, I don't think it's the buying community that prefers to buy it this way. It's the selling community that prefers to sell it this way."

But if Mr. Farella had his way, he'd restructure the upfront selling period for national broadcast media through longer-term discussions between buyers and sellers.

"Targeted strategies would benefit from longer-term negotiations -- weeks, not hours -- resulting in a better selection of programming, more targeted schedules and long-term relations between an advertiser and the media," Mr. Farella says.


As a buyer who is "in the business of listening to clients, developing strategies, then executing the best buy for each of our clients," he says, "paying attention to clients is paramount. So is understanding the wants and needs of a client."

Mr. Farella understands client needs. He joined the media department of Benton & Bowles, New York, in 1977, and worked on the Procter & Gamble Co. account. He was media director at Ammirati & Puris; Wells, Rich, Greene; and Young & Rubicam, all New York. He most recently was at Jordan McGrath Case & Partners/Euro RSCG, New York, which he joined in 1992 as media director and later became an exec VP.

While at Jordan McGrath, Mr. Farella helped set the tone for SmithKline Beecham's Nicorette and NicoDermCQ campaign, which he jokingly labels as being an endeavor that was "on the side of the angels because it helped people to stop smoking."


The challenge was to create an inventive angle that would help smokers give up cigarettes without being too preachy.

"We did it by pulling apart the smoking universe," says Mr. Farella.

His agency determined which smokers were on the verge of quitting, many of whom were upscale and younger smokers encouraged to quit.

To reach these smokers, he "skewed the buys to more upscale networks, like A&E and Discovery" Channel, he says.

When asked what's the toughest target group to reach, Mr. Farella responds: "The one you want."

Contributing: Richard Linnett

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