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As head of national TV buying at Grey Advertising, New York, Jon Mandel has had to deal with all kinds of unusual TV marketplace issues.

Over the years, he has negotiated in tight markets and soft markets. He has had to walk the delicate line over TV content issues. He has even had to rationalize mysterious shifts in the supply of TV rating points caused by changes in Nielsen Media Research ratings methods.

But this is the first year, says Mr. Mandel, that he has had to contend with "electricity problems."

Recently, while working on plans for his client's 1998-99 upfront TV marketplace strategies, Mr. Mandel quite literally found himself in the dark when the battalion of computers Grey uses to analyze TV schedule options blew the agency's circuit breakers.

The incident, says Mr. Mandel, is as much a testament for surge protectors as it is an example of how complicated and sophisticated the process of TV planning and buying has become in the relatively short time since optimizers have been introduced to the U.S. marketplace.

"Never in my life did I imagine that I'd be sitting here dealing with electricity problems, but with the number of computers we have running here at the same time, circuits get blown," he says. While most agencies have been using computers to assist in the analysis of media planning, Mr. Mandel's blackout points to a fundamental change in the power of computing necessary to compete in today's media planning environment.

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