in Management & Leadership

Erwin Ephron

I learned a few weeks ago from Joe Mandese that Erwin Ephron had passed away.

Joe wrote in his obit:

Ephron, who began his career as a PR man for Nielsen, and worked for and owned several advertising agencies, became one of the advertising industry’s most influential consultants during the late 1980s and through the 1990s and early 2000s as major advertisers and agencies were trying to come to grips with the impact that the hyper fragmentation of media and accelerating advertising costs were having on the most fundamental theories of media-planning theory, including the backbone of ‘reach and frequency.’ In its place, Ephron championed a more radical notion he dubbed ‘recency,’ which freed big marketers from the notion that they had to spend exorbitant amounts of money in an attempt to reach everyone all the time. Instead, recency planning argued that the new model for media planning was to reach consumers when they were most likely to be in-market for a brand’s advertising message.

Despite his reputation as an influential media theorist and practitioner — and often a controversial thorn in the side of many — there was another side of Erwin I got to know. He was curious, generous and open to accepting new ideas.

Back in 2005, I was pitching our startup BuzzMetrics, the social listening technology and research company, later to be acquired by Nielsen. While our story of monitoring and analyzing online buzz was captivating and innovative at the time, it wasn’t taken seriously by the conventional media establishment. So by invitation of Bob Barocci, then the CEO of the Advertising Research Foundation (and another curious and generous person), I presented our work to a small group of measurement experts.

I was 27 years old at the time, and that measurement group was seasoned and intimidating. It included Erwin Ephron, and that was my first encounter with him. I had never before been interrogated so hard about our methodology and its relevance to advertising. Fortunately, we had no secrets or black box, so an engaging, transparent discussion ensued. Without question, Erwin was the most interested person in the room, and from there he became an unofficial advisor and friend to our company and me. Why was he interested in us? “Because you’re challenging the status quo without blinders on,” he said.

In the coming months, I would often stop by his office in Midtown to share our latest innovations in buzz intelligence, and he’d rip our assumptions apart and make our value proposition stronger. In the same spirit, he gave me a copy of his anthology “Media Planning,” a classic, practical and no-B.S. text on the foundation of advertising and planning. He said I needed to know the basics in order to bridge the gap between the old world and the new. He promised to quiz me later on it, and he fulfilled that promise.

After Nielsen acquired BuzzMetrics, I moved onto new digital startup ventures. Erwin remained generous, always willing to listen and offer feedback on anything that attempted to advance the practice of advertising. I think he enjoyed the stimulation.

During our last in-depth industry conversation, three years ago, Erwin expressed concern that online advertising had still failed to prove its purpose beyond search and direct response. At the same time, he was optimistic that we’d eventually figure it out — and shake things up along the way. I feel like we’re just beginning to figure it out, and a hell of a lot is getting shaken up. He must be resting peacefully in his grave.

I’ll miss him. He provided me inspiration and confidence to challenge the status quo and always be on a pursuit for the innovative. In this world of social and mobile (and whatever else comes along), I consider his spirit “timelessly recent.”

Here’s to Erwin. Rest in peace.

  • Jonathan Carson

    What a wonderful tribute Max. Brought back really nice memories of those crazy sessions we had back in 2005. Thanks for that.

  • http://www.attentionmax.com maxkalehoff

    Thanks Jonathan. He’s one of those guys who we knew just a little bit, but a significant impact.