David Verklin

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After retrieving papers from a fax machine, David Verklin dashes into his office, causing his heavily creased shirt to spill out of his pants and his tie to fly like a windsock. He is after his phone, which rings without let-up. The 44-year-old CEO of Carat North America is a busy man.

"Hey, bub!" he shouts at a visitor, waving his hands like Buster Keaton directing traffic on Broadway. "Come on in."

Mr. Verklin is the "It-Guy" of the media buying and planning business, which might not be saying much. The industry is not known for its glamor. Indeed, it enjoys a singular reputation for churning out wonks and geeks.

But it's true, Mr. Verklin is a stud. He is young, with a full head of dark hair, dark eyes, a devilish smile. He has a reputation for being brash. He generates excitement wherever he shows up, be it for lunch in a classy East Side restaurant near his office or at a confab of cable broadcasters.

"The 30-second commercial as we currently know it will die in the future," Mr. Verklin announced to a bewildered panel of his peers at this year's Cable Advertising Conference. He then went on to call for a new advertising model in which media agencies themselves would begin producing ads so that commercials can be flexible and can be "tweaked" quickly to target audiences instantly.

"The average TV commercial in America costs over $300,000 to produce. I believe in the future we're going to create commercials that cost $30,000. I believe there will be five-minute ads, half-hour ads, integrated ads. [Personal video recorders] will change things. There is just going to be a lot of different stuff out there," he says.

Some advertising people call him a grandstander, others a visionary. Mr. Verklin is certainly an irrepressible spokesman for new ideas in the industry. Some say he speaks his mind on these issues for the attention it gets him, others believe he is totally engaged and sincere. "Not only does David know media, he understands it," says Peter Hunsinger, publisher of Vanity Fair. "I mean, he's up there. The rest of us are ropes hanging on the Goodyear blimp, trying to hold it down."

Actions speak loudest, of course, and what is indisputable about Mr. Verklin is the fact that in being a central player in the launching of Carat in this country, he has definitively placed himself in the select company of media innovators, alongside Media Edge's Paul Woolmington and Initiative Media's Bill Croasdale.

Not that many years ago, a freestanding media organization in the U.S. was basically a volume discount buying house like Botway Group.

Meanwhile, in Europe, Carat, owned by Aegis Group in London; CIA Medianetwork, owned by Tempus Group also in London; and a handful of other specialist media agencies not only purchased media, they also provided research, media planning, strategic planning and consulting for clients.

Importantly, they were free of direct advertising agency control. Research tools, such as optimizers, that shops such as Carat brought from Europe to media buying in the U.S., helped develop this media agency model and change how time and space is bought.

Other powerhouse buying concerns developed in this recent sea change in media buying and planning: MindShare within WPP Group, Optimum Media Direction at Omnicom Group, Media Edge within Young & Rubicam, Bcom3 Group's Starcom Mediavest Group and Initiative Media at Interpublic Group. The list goes on.

"We were the first to bring the mantra `We can buy it smarter,' to the U.S.," says Mr. Verklin. "Traditionally, media in the U.S. had been all about `We can buy it cheaper.' The objective at Carat is to know more about media than the people who sell it."

"He is a talented and resourceful guy," says the head of a competing media organization who asked to remain anonymous. "There's a lot of pressure on him to perform, to make Carat a success here."

Mr. Verklin is not only one of the smartest men in media, but people who meet him would say he is one of the most confident. He speaks in a crisp, aggressive, attention-grabbing voice reminiscent of a TV show host or news anchor, and peppers his conversation with self-congratulatory asides.

"I knew I wanted to be in media, but I had no contacts, no connections in the ad industry," he says, recalling his start in the business. "The only idea I came up with -- which I thought was quite clever -- [was when] I found the name of the top 10 agencies and interviewed with the head of account management in each one. Then I'd say, `I don't really want to be in account management, I want to be in media.' They would always relax. The funny thing about corporations, as soon as executives find out you are not their problem, they become mellow. They forwarded my resume with a recommendation."

Mr. Verklin cadged his first job in the media department at Young & Rubicam in 1977. Three years later, he was handling media buying and planning for Eastern Airlines, then the agency's largest business. He later helped forge the powerhouse alliance between Y&R and Dentsu in Asia. In 1987, he became Hal Riney & Partners' first media director and later managing director of the agency.

"If you look at the way he bought media for Saturn when he was with Hal Riney . . . on radio, television and print: That was the plan for BMW or Mercedes, not for a $16,000 car," says Mr. Hunsinger. "So many people see media buying and planning as being all about price and how good a deal they can get. David sees it as being a brand partner. Carat has taken this philosophy to a full-service form."

In 1998, Mr. Verklin helped launched Carat North America, which gobbled nine smaller media companies across the country. The agency was in full operation in April last year when it started winning business including Amana, Alberto-Culver, Radio Shack, Midas, CBS-TV, Echostar and Pfizer.

Carat also was invited to the largest advertising review in the history of the industry, the $2.9 billion General Motors Corp. media planning assignment, which eventually went to Starcom MediaVest.

Although some media honchos called Carat's participation in that review "a joke," and simply a result of Mr. Verklin having personal relations with some GM executives through his Riney connections, others were suitably awed by the agency's presentation.

"That GM review . . . the fact that he got in there, that was a great compliment," says a media competitor.

Carat North America, with more than $2 billion in billings, ranks No. 11 on Advertising Age's list of top U.S. media specialists. (Carat is No. 5 worldwide.)

Mr. Verklin says that Carat's success so far is not due to just "pricing media," but also to its focus on insight and research in the planning and buying process.

"To the people who say they can buy media cheaper," says Mr. Verklin, "my argument is that if you are on the wrong train, every stop is the wrong stop. That is the innovation, that is the change that we've brought to the U.S."

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