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He Just Wanted to Buy a Little Time . . . and Wound Up with a Fortune

October 27, 1987|RUCE HOROVITZ

The flashy opening for the TV favorite "77 Sunset Strip" was filmed outside the building where his company is now headquartered. He used to do bit parts on "Ozzie and Harriet." One of his former employees is heartthrob Mark Harmon--who calls him uncle. And Clint Eastwood has been doing business with him for a dozen years.

It might sound like Dennis Holt is some sort of Hollywood heavyweight.

But the 51-year-old Holt doesn't make movies or television shows. In fact, he doesn't even make commercials.

Instead, his Los Angeles company, Western International Media Corp., places commercials on television and radio. Small ad agencies--as well as companies that create their own ads--come to Western when they want their ads aired on TV or radio. By going to a so-called media-buying service like Western, they save the expense of setting up their own department. Companies like Western help clients figure out the best times and places to air their ads. And because media-buying services buy in bulk, they get ad time for prices even cheaper than many ad agencies.

Western isn't just on a roll, it's on a rampage. Suddenly, it has emerged as the biggest buyer of spot television advertising time in the nation. Although the company doesn't create ads, it does make certain that people see and hear them. More than 1 in 10 TV and radio commercials that Los Angeles area residents see or hear are placed with stations by Western. That includes ads for every Clint Eastwood movie made in the past dozen years.

Los Angeles Times Wednesday October 28, 1987 Home Edition Business Part 4 Page 2 Column 6 Financial Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Jim Spero is senior vice president and media director at the Los Angeles office of the advertising agency Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt Inc. In Tuesday's Marketing column, he was identified with the wrong ad firm.

Although "Dirty Harry" helped build a reputation for the company, he's just been out-manned by the likes of Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Pluto. Like a well-timed wish upon a star, Western took over $90 million worth of Walt Disney Co. business--one of the West Coast's richest and most sought-after media-buying accounts. Disney, of course, airs hundreds and hundreds of ads annually for its movies, amusement parks and TV channel.

Although Holt has long courted Disney, he says he never really thought he'd get the account. "It's like asking out Marilyn Monroe," said Holt, who drives a jet-black Porsche and owns a huge chunk of real estate on Sunset Boulevard, where Western is located. "You never expect her to say yes."

Not only has Disney plopped 90% of its media-buying business in Western's lap, but a domino effect is already taking place. Some $18 million in new media-buying business has flowed into his shop during the past two weeks--including placement of E. F. Hutton's national broadcast ads.

Western already buys media time for companies ranging from Builders Emporium ("We Got the Message, Mr. Sigoloff") to PSA ("Catch Our Smile") to Singapore Airlines ("Singapore Girl, You're a Great Way to Fly").

With the addition of the Disney business, which it snatched from the New York-based ad firm Young & Rubicam, Western's annual billings have jumped about 20%--well past the $500-million mark. "Our pool of money," said Robert B. Levin, senior vice president of marketing at Walt Disney Pictures, "will help make Western very, very effective in the marketplace." That is, because the amount Western spends on placing ads has suddenly swelled, it will carry more clout for its clients in bargaining for better time slots--at the best prices.

In fact, with so much media-buying power, Holt is calling shots like no other placement service in the West. "Some stations are worried that eventually he'll get in a position where he will control the pricing," said Jim Spero, senior vice president and media director at the Los Angeles office of J. Walter Thompson.

Holt says that's hogwash. His aim, he says, isn't to control the stations but to get the best deals for his clients. Still, Holt predicts, within 10 years there will be just a handful of big companies that buy advertising time for all the small advertisers. And Holt expects that his company will be one of them, with upward of $2 billion in billings. "Landing the Disney account gives us some respectability," he said.

Respectability, indeed. "When you find out his secret, will you let me know?" posed Andrew Butcher, president of California's second-largest media-placement firm, International Communications Group. "He not only gets business, but he keeps it."

Witness Denny's Inc., which has placed all of its advertising through Western since the media-buying service was formed 17 years ago. "We don't usually have to ask them to perform miracles," said Sue Henderson, vice president of advertising at Denny's. "But when we have asked them, they've delivered."

Sometimes the company is called on to buy commercial time at the last minute or to get time on a particular station or show. None of this, however, comes easy. "Buying air time is guerrilla warfare," said Holt, stopping the interview for a moment to take a phone call from Michael Gould, president of Giorgio Inc. "It's a very unglamorous job," said Holt, upon finishing the call. "It's grunt work."

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