CAB Starts Search to Replace Ostrow

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New York — The first formal step toward finding the successor to Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau CEO Joseph Ostrow will begin this week, when the trade group's executive and search committees convene.

But there has already been some unofficial activity: Several advertising and cable-network executives have submitted their names for consideration.

The purpose of the Aug. 21 meeting at CAB headquarters here will be to select a headhunter to conduct the actual search. For now, the head of the search committee — Insight Communications Co. president Kim Kelly, the CAB's chair — and other trade-group executives will not comment on the matter.

Committee members will choose the recruiter based on their own previous experiences with the various executive-recruitment firms, rather than invite formal presentations, said CAB spokesman Steve Raddock.

Several headhunters have expressed interest in the search, though, and their names — as well as those of some ad-agency and network executives who asked to be considered — have been passed along to Kelly, Raddock added.

AD COMMUNITY EDGE?

For now, executives from within the advertising community — i.e., those directly involved with buying decisions at advertisers or agencies — appear to be at the top of the CAB's pecking order, sources said. Cable-network executives are second on that wish list.

That makes sense to such observers as Lifetime Television senior vice president of research Tim Brooks. "I would think they might [again] want someone like Joe, with deep roots in the agency side," he said. "That bolstered his credibility in telling cable's story in a way agencies would understand."

In July, Ostrow said he'd step down as CAB president and CEO in March 2003, but remain with the group through a multiyear consulting contract. Though Ostrow is nearly 70 years old, Raddock said he doesn't appear ready to retire. He still arrives each day at 6:15 a.m. and takes very few days off, Raddock noted.

During his tenure, Ostrow said he helped "our members grow their [total] advertising volume from less than $5 billion annually to more than $15 billion."

The CAB's next CEO might face rougher going, some sources noted, as programmers and operators are now finding it much tougher to bolster their ad-sales volume.

The search process is expected to take roughly three months, sources said. That's the same timeframe as in 1994, when Ostrow — then executive vice president and worldwide media director of Foote, Cone & Belding and a member of some CAB committees — was hired. He replaced Thom McKinney, who now works as a motivational speaker.

The only other name that surfaced for the CAB post eight years ago was that of Betsy Frank, then an executive vice president with Zenith Media. Soon afterwards, MTV Networks named her executive vice president of research and planning.

At that time, some observers considered Frank to be the frontrunner, and believed Ostrow was uninterested. This time around, Frank has no interest in joining the trade group.

"It was a great opportunity, but I had some second thoughts. I'm very happy about the choice I made [to go to MTVN]," she said.

Robert Alter, a former CAB CEO, was also considered prior to Ostrow's hiring. He was tapped only on an interim basis.

One of Ostrow's most recent moves was to commission Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. to conduct a study of senior-level executives to "give us direction in developing strategies and goals," said Raddock. The study polled CAB members from both networks and MSOs, as well as key executives from both agencies and clients.

DIPLOMACY

The results from the study, based on input from more than 50 executives, should now guide Ostrow's successor — at least at the outset.

One prerequisite for the new executive will undoubtedly be diplomatic skills, said sources. Ostrow's successor must satisfy the needs of the very different network and local ad-sales constituencies.

The CAB's new CEO will have to "balance a lot of different agendas to come up with an overall agenda and make sure the cable story is told loud and clear," said Frank.

There already is some speculation that the new CEO may bring some key executives with along with them.

"Everybody likes to leave their own stamp," as one current CAB executive put it.

But Raddock, who noted that many of the CAB's top executives have been with the trade group for 10 years or more, said he believes that change will be minimal as the new CEO gets acclimated.

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