Stacey Lynn Koerner, who has been singing since childhood, at one time entertained the notion of being a performer. But as a student at Northwestern University, she got hooked on studying the business side of show business.
While in college, Koerner did programming research for Katz Television Media Group and says, “I knew early on that I had an aptitude for it.”
Today, Koerner, in her role as executive vice president and director of global research integration at Initiative, is considered an expert on consumer media behavior. As such, she has been an advocate of evaluating the media landscape as one TV world, without segregating cable.
“Stacey's really brilliant,” says Betsy Frank, executive vice president of research and planning for Viacom's cable networks, film and publishing.
To grasp TV today, “more and more, it's understanding that for the audience, it has become a single television environment,” says Frank. “And Stacey understands that evolution.”
Koerner is often quoted as an expert on the media and TV. She is mindful of her power. “At my age, I'm sort of astounded that I've been able to have a voice in the media industry and to influence opinion about programming and about the advertising marketplace,” she says. “It comes obviously with responsibility when you're going to make comments about the future of certain programming.”
Koerner, 35, grew up in Parsippany, N.J., an only child raised by a divorced mother, who was her inspiration. Without the benefit of a college sheepskin, Koerner's mother worked her way up the corporate ladder, eventually becoming the marketing director for men's fragrance maker Aramis Inc.
Koerner's first love was music. “I was always a childhood performer,” she says. “From the time I was nine, I was singing and doing auditions in shows.”
At Northwestern on a scholarship, radio-TV-film major Koerner was still performing, in productions such as The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, “although I'm not sure I want you to publish that,” she jokes.
But she decided to study “the business of media” so she'd have something to fall back on if she didn't succeed as an artist. Still at Northwestern, she enjoyed her Katz internship and then went on to earn a master's degree in media studies at New York University, doing TV and print research for D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, while she got her advanced degree.
She began her career at Katz and later moved to CBS, before joining TN Media in 1997. Koerner became part of the Initiative team in August 2001 when the shop merged with TN Media. She held the post of senior vice president and director of broadcast research before her promotion in 2003.
“It's kind of strange when you have a very artistic background that you end up crunching numbers for a living, but I don't really see myself as a numbers cruncher,” Koerner says. “I look at research and I see a very creative occupation, because what we do in research is we try to understand phenomenon.”
For example, she recently helped develop PropheSEE, a TV research tool that forecasts whether a new series will be a breakout show or a failure. The tracking tool, which scours the Internet for chatter about upcoming shows, pegged ABC's surprise ratings blockbusters Lost and Desperate Housewives as hits. Her approach to media has made her “the agency-research voice that's been saying we need to evaluate everything on a level playing field,” according to Koerner.
“I've been most influential, in terms of the cable industry, because I always focus on the consumer in the center, and the way people consume television,” she says. “I've been out there saying it's not about one distribution stream versus another distribution stream. Forget your industry hat, and think about how you are as a consumer and a viewer, and it really doesn't matter to you where your content is coming from as long as you have it.”
Koerner and Frank have a mutual admiration society. When Koerner was at Northwestern, she got the TV trades delivered to her dorm and would see Frank — then Saatchi & Saatchi's media guru — quoted in stories. They first met at a conference several years ago and had an “immediate rapport,” according to Koerner.
“To me, I'm just sort of in awe that she talks to me,” Koerner says, laughing. “She's a big role model for me.”
Koerner still tries to find time for her “passion,” music. She does work as a studio vocalist, singing on original scores for CBS soaps and even recording tracks for artists such as Chaka Khan.
Though Koerner's taken up crocheting as “a Zen-kind of activity to kind of quiet your mind,” she's also a high-tech early adopter.
“I've become sort of a gadget queen,” she says. “I depend a lot on technology to keep me connected.”
For Christmas, she got herself a state-of-the-art cell phone that includes voice, text messaging, a calendar, a PDF viewer, e-mail, video of her cats and MP3 storage — up to 30 minutes of music on a mini disc. “I can go running with it, and if a call comes in I can pause the music, take the call and when the call's over, go back to my music,” she says.
Her long-term aspirations include moving beyond research to operations. “I'd like to take a crack at running a media company somewhere,” Koerner says.