Special Report: KidScreen presents the Kids Media Executives

In setting about naming the top kids media executives, we stumbled upon an unexpected fact: kids advertising is a somewhat small world when compared to that of adult-targeted advertising. Both the playing field of media buying, media research and media planning...
February 1, 1998

In setting about naming the top kids media executives, we stumbled upon an unexpected fact: kids advertising is a somewhat small world when compared to that of adult-targeted advertising. Both the playing field of media buying, media research and media planning in the kids realm and the number of players are relatively few. These rarified children’s specialists not only know their stuff, they know-or know of-each other, making it easy for KidScreen to pick their brains for this special report. A striking fact that emerged was this: since there are so few media outlets to haggle with in order to reach kids, relationships-often years in the making-can make the difference between a merely good kids media person and one that is ‘totally rad.’

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- Top Kids Media DirectorCherie Crane, senior partner, media director, Ogilvy & Mather, Los Angeles

Cherie Crane is the brains behind Mattel’s budget muscle. She is able to ‘put the numbers stuff aside and figure out why Rugrats hits,’ says a colleague, and she has the ability to explore and understand the fundamental emotional needs of kids.

‘Kids tend to watch channels more than single programs,’ says Crane. ‘Young children especially aren’t looking at TV Guide to find out what time a program is on.’ Crane attributes the stellar rise of Nickelodeon to this phenomenon. ‘Fox wasn’t for kids all the time,’ she notes, ‘whereas Cartoon [Network] and Nickelodeon program to kids 24 hours a day.’ The fact that cable is commanding 70 percent of the kids audience doesn’t mean broadcast is no longer important, just that buyers need to be more strategic with these more expensive network buys, according to Crane.


After a 10-year absence, Crane returned to Ogilvy & Mather in May 1993 to test her media mettle on the Mattel account. During her time away from the agency’s media department, Crane was part of the team at Ketchum Advertising that launched the company’s L.A. office and handled the corporate launch of Acura. In addition to media responsibilities, Crane was responsible for strategic planning, account planning and new business for Ketchum, where she most recently served as senior vice president, director of planning and operations. She received her B.A. from Boston University.

- Top Kids Associate Media Director

John Marson, associate media director, Foote, Cone & Belding, Chicago

John Marson is the spokesperson of Foote, Cone & Belding for the client, says Mark Dominiak, vice president and media director for the agency.

Marson’s creativity and his ability to ask the right questions are widely noted. ‘Mark is one of the most inquisitive people I’ve ever met in my life. He does the legwork here on the kids stuff,’ says Dominiak. ‘He’ll go off with the creatives, consumers, or research people. . . . He thirsts for knowledge and knows everything about kids.’

‘The way I’ve approached serving up kids media to the client is by giving them expertise through offering different seminars,’ says Marson. ‘It’s about being their expert, being a partner.’

Marson frequently advocates less conventional media programs than the straight TV buys of yesteryear. ‘Kids print is an up-and-coming vehicle, . . . another viable way to reach kids in a more interactive way.’

Marson’s negotiating prowess is cited as another forte. ‘When we have high-stakes stuff, [he's] the one that closes the deal,’ says Dominiak.


Marson joined Foote, Cone & Belding after working for a variety of companies on the client side as a media planner. Most recently on the client side, he worked for Kraft Foods and Coors Brewing Company. In 1990, Marson joined Foote, Cone & Belding as an assistant planner on S.C. Johnson’s Raid and OFF! brands. He quickly rose to media planner in 1992. His work on Kraft accounts landed him a promotion to media supervisor in 1996, and most recently to associate media director. Marson received a degree in telecommunications from Indiana University.

- Top Kids Researcher

Debbie Solomon, senior partner of media research at J. Walter Thompson USA, Chicago

Debbie Solomon’s byline frequently appears in major advertising trades, where she enlightens readers on a variety of marketing and research topics. But the real basis for her stature as a top kids research specialist is firmly rooted in her ability to crunch numbers, then cull out what is germane to kids media.

‘I’m helping them make efficient buys,’ says Solomon. ‘But another part for me is assisting clients in the network business, like Saban and Fox Kids Network. We help them look at children’s TV more from a programming standpoint. So I’m considering [kids media] from both ends.’ Additionally, she is busy providing comprehensive analysis of viewing trends, writing reports and keeping clients abreast of trends.

Solomon makes it her business to understand what’s going on in kids TV, as well as what’s coming up. Solomon, heading up research for huge kids buyers such as Kraft, Oscar Mayer, Bandai, Mott’s, Nestlž and Domino’s Pizza, concludes that balancing intuition with ‘hard facts, when they exist,’ is her recipe for success with kids. She is also author of the influential oft-quoted J. Walter Thompson report A Global View of Kids, which details, in part, why children’s behavior is extremely difficult to measure.


As a child, Solomon entertained herself by dreaming up board games. Later, she put that skill to use as a professional toy and game tester for Milton Bradley. She received a B.A. in psychology from the University of Chicago, and went on to do a master’s in the same subject at Duke University. Solomon kicked off her advertising career as a media researcher at Leo Burnett, Chicago, before leaving in 1986 to join J. Walter Thompson. Solomon is also responsible for designing the first-ever study of children’s media and marketing in Latin America and chairing the Advertising Research Foundation’s Youth Research Council.

- Top Kids Media Buyer

Cynthia Kelly, broadcast account supervisor, Ogilvy & Mather, New York

As a network and cable buyer, Cynthia Kelly handles such kid-friendly accounts as Hershey’s Chocolate USA, Mattel, Campbell Soup Company and Paramount Pictures and is known for her ‘watchful eye.’

Kelly’s attention to detail, her focus on research as a tool to evaluate kids trends, her ability to take direction-all of these skills factor in, but negotiating is where Kelly really shines.

‘She’s the type of buyer who does the research, then comes in saying, `Hey, we should pay this much for this piece of media,” says a colleague at Ogilvy & Mather. ‘She makes sure ads don’t appear in the wrong environment, that buys are dictated by what kids want to watch.’

In cases where the network or channel’s price was significantly higher than what Kelly was willing to offer, she got creative. She was able to step up with other marketing opportunities such as tie-ins and promotions to sweeten the deal for the network.

All of is this is why this young buyer is deemed ‘tough.’


Kelly joined the agency in 1988, and has been on the rise ever since. She has learned many of the ropes in-house, including developing, negotiating, implementing and managing media buys. During her tenure at Ogilvy & Mather, she became proficient in the upfront and scatter markets, and has applied this knowledge in network, syndication and cable. Kelly received her B.S. in business administration with an emphasis on economics at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania.

- Top Overall Kids Advertising Guru

Paul Kurnit, president, Griffin Bacal, New York

Among agency people, there seems to be a consensus that Paul Kurnit is, as one industry executive put it, ‘an expert in all aspects of kids advertising.’

Kurnit dispels the idea that marketing to kids is elementary or trivial. ‘Kids are very sophisticated. If we put a piece of information, an ad out there that isn’t true, we are going to be found out very fast. Rejections of the message are sudden and swift and total [in kids advertising]. This keeps pressure upon us, but if we do our jobs, it serves us well.

‘The kids media landscape is richer than it’s ever been before. It used to be a three-network game, animated Saturday morning. Then Sesame Street came in. That was the world of kids. Today, the TV world is very rich in kids programming-it’s available 24 hours a day.

‘Now, there are other media for kids. With Sports Illustrated for Kids, specialty magazines for kids-we’re recognizing that print can be a fun and interactive and highly visual medium. The newest media is radio-branded radio like Radio Disney, and programming options like Fox Kids Countdown.

‘Also, there’s a new ability to get into schools, with book covers and branded food tray liners. It’s a new frontier.’


Kurnit began his ad career at Benton and Bowles in 1974 in account management. Throughout his career, he has taught at a number of colleges, including Parsons School of Design and Pace University, and has conducted seminars for the Advertising Education Foundation at campuses nationwide. While at Ogilvy & Mather, Kurnit worked on the General Foods and American Express accounts. Since joining Griffin Bacal in 1982, he has also served as executive vice president of Sunbow. Prior to landing his present post, he served as executive vice president, director of client services at Griffin Bacal.

- Top Kids Media Specialists with the Lowest Profile

The Sachs Group, Los Angeles

Fair play is the cornerstone of operations in The Sachs Group media department, according to company insiders who preferred to go unnamed.

In keeping with this ‘kinder and gentler media department’ credo, agency executives try to ensure that even adversaries leave tough negotiations smiling. ‘You’re dealing, historically, with the same people,’ says a Sachs media executive. ‘Your relationship and credibility have to be impeccable,’ he notes.

The group, which is equally hush-hush about its client list, handles strictly kids players in all media-TV, print, cable, Web sites, you name it. Specializing in kids, however, requires that media personnel ‘keep their eyes open for everything. It’s the biggest challenge you have-to go find kids.’

Well, maybe not the biggest challenge. ‘It’s not so easy anymore. The days of two to three networks are over,’ notes a Sachs media executive. He adds that if a media negotiation falls apart at an adult-targeted outlet, there are always at least 10 other vehicles to choose from, whereas in kids, there are usually only three or four alternatives.

New media such as the Internet and video games have brought about changes in the way Sachs handles buying for kids. However, clients sometimes offer resistance to changing old advertising formulas. ‘Getting somebody to do something new is a slow process,’ says a Sachs executive. ‘We’re comfortable with what we know.’

- Best `Bang for the Buck’ in a Kids Media Program

Scott Daly, partner, senior vice president, media director, and Jeff Coryell, associate media director, JSM+ Communications, Los Angeles

‘From my point of view, it’s about understanding kids themselves, knowing what’s out there,’ says Jeff Coryell, who-along with his boss, Scott Daly-masterminds media buys for clients such as DreamWorks Interactive, Radio Disney, Nick Junior and Sony Wonder. ‘We take tiny budgets and make them work hard,’ adds Daly.

That attitude involves far more brain power than simply pounding out the cost per thousand, and that think tank-type expertise is what this team at JSM+ is known for. A big challenge the team faces at the moment is the burgeoning number of choices that are out there in kids media. ‘Being in touch with kids as media consumers is tough,’ notes Coryell, adding that target audiences are increasingly segmented. Another challenge they face, especially with client Sony Wonder, is the client’s need to reach both parents and children with one vehicle. Although achieving this is tricky, the efficiency with respect to ad dollars makes it worth the extra effort.


Daly founded the agency’s media department, establishing a no-compromise philosophy that asserts that little agencies can get big results. Prior to joining JSM+, Daly worked for a number of San Francisco agencies. He supervised the US$50-million Hewlett Packard Peripherals account at Saatchi & Saatchi Pacific/SF. At Hal Riney & Partners/SF before that, he launched Saturn’s regional media program.

Coryell began his career at Doyle, Dane, Bernbach, where he worked on Universal Pictures before moving to Dailey & Associates, where he handled various Honda and Nestlž brands. He joined JSM+ in August 1996 after a stint at Saatchi & Saatchi Pacific/SF.

- Top Kids Media Commentator

Gene Del Vecchio, director of planning & research, Ogilvy & Mather, Los Angeles

During his 16 years in Ogilvy & Mather’s media department, Gene Del Vecchio’s client list has included such kid-related accounts as Baskin-Robbins, Disney, Kraft Foods, Microsoft, Mattel, Nestlž and Paramount. He is noted by many in the business as being a leader in kid-related marketing.

Del Vecchio has spearheaded scores of kid-related studies, and has recently written a book entitled Creating Ever-Cool, A Marketer’s Guide to a Kid’s Heart, which was just published by Pelican Publishing. He has also contributed ideas for kids products including new toys, foods, promotions and even screenplays. In addition to assisting agency clients, Del Vecchio speaks at kid marketing conferences, and acts as a spokesperson on kids marketing for a wide variety of publications.


Del Vecchio began his career on the client side at General Mills, and is a graduate of both University of California, Los Angeles (B.A.) and University of Southern California (M.B.A.). Throughout his agency career, Del Vecchio has been honored with Ogilvy & Mather’s David Ogilvy Award for his strategic direction on the Barbie account, which produced outstanding sales results, and several advertising industry Effies.

- Most Seasoned Kids Research Veteran

Lois Welch, senior vice president, group strategic plan director, DDB Needham, Chicago

Lois Welch currently directs research for General Mills and Household International accounts, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg concerning her expertise.

‘She’s a consumer research specialist with many years of experience working on the kids audience,’ says Penny Derer, group media director at DDB Needham.

Arriving 18 years ago with a Ph.D. in child development, Welch rose through the ranks on kid-friendly accounts such as Franco-American, Hasbro, General Mills’ Betty Crocker, and more recently on General Mills Fruit Snacks and Walt Disney Home Video.

Even though Welch doesn’t handle any kids accounts at the moment, she has remained an essential source for the lowdown on kids. ‘I tend to think of her as the person in the agency I’m most likely to call if I need a historical reference to be current on the topic of kids,’ says Derer.

A published author on the subject of family life stages, she’s well versed in psychographics, market research and child development. Calls for her expertise keep rolling in, not only from within the agency and affiliated Griffin Bacal, but from conferences looking for a children’s expert, government agencies, Cheetos (for which Welch remains a consultant), other clients and even other advertising research personnel with children’s clients.


After graduating magna cum laude from Radcliffe College, Welch moved on to earn her M.A. and finally her Ph.D. from University of Chicago’s Committee on Human Development. A major focus of her academic research was attention strategies of children.

Welch completed teaching stints at National College of Education and University of Chicago before entering the private sector. She plunged into research immediately upon her arrival at Needham Harper, Chicago, in October 1981. She was promoted to associate research director in June 1987, and to senior vice president in March 1993.

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