Obit: Media Planning Guru Erwin Ephron, Dead At 79

Erwin Ephron, once one of the most influential consultants shaping the way advertisers spend money to buy media, died Sunday. He was 79. Ephron's health deteriorated following a fall that resulted in a head injury earlier this year. The exact cause of death was not known at presstime, but he had been hospitalized for months following the injury.

“[He was] a brilliant, creative, hard-working writer who stimulated all to think more clearly about media,” said Gale Metzger, a long-time friend and associate who led an investigation to find him when Ephron was hospitalized and dropped out of public sight. When he was finally located, he was described as being in poor physical and mental health that belied the brilliance and quick wit he was known for in the decades he helped shape the underlying theories of media planning theory.

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.

Through his writing, public speaking and behind-the-scenes consultation work, Ephron helped to change many of the notions of media planning, which likely shifted billions of dollars in advertising spending over more than a decade. During the 1990s, he reached near-rock star status in media planning circles, and even toured the country in a series of speaking engagement with compatriot John Philip Jones, a former adman and university professor who shared Ephron's views about how media planning and buying was changing.

In a sample of his most "quotable quotes," Ephron published the following compilation in his own newsletter, "The Ephron Letter:"

February 1998 – There is no truth here.  There are only better or poorer measurements.

October 1998 -  If the schedule runs as ordered you're probably paying too much.

February 1999 – The worst effect of an information monopoly is Ignorance.

May 2000 – The upfront is rooted in scarcity and fear.

June 2001 – No matter how much more effective one medium is at the start, there comes a point where the next dollar should be spent elsewhere.

August 2002 – Advertising is too often like buying a melon where you have to spend the money to find out if it’s any good...Intelligent auditing is a simple way to reduce the risk.

February 2003 – Different media can do different things.  That’s why we use them.

March 2004 -  The role of most advertising is to nudge people towards one of the brands they already know, when they are ready to buy.

June 2005 – Frequency is crabgrass.

August 2006 – Engagement is not a media problem.  The simple model is “media deliver consumers, ads produce response."

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36 comments about "Obit: Media Planning Guru Erwin Ephron, Dead At 79".
  1. Sheldon Senzon from JMS Media, Inc. , October 14, 2013 at 9:47 a.m.
    Very sad news about a true Media Research legend. I grew up in the Media biz reading as much of his work as I could, he had a wonderful way of making sense of all the numbers; reach, frequency, recency and the like. His charts were simple to follow and were useful for people like myself who were working away developing media plans for many clients. For someone so smart he managed to never take himself too seriously. I'm sure he has a huge smile on his face from all the current buzz words like activation, engagement, KPI, content distribution, native advertising and what ever is the next flavor of the month.
  2. Judy Franks from The Marketing Democracy , October 14, 2013 at 9:54 a.m.
    RIP, Erwin. I personally will be sure to share many of your important ideas in the classrooms of Northwestern University. You sparked great debates on how advertising accumulates affects. In a world where the half-life of a message is now mere seconds, your ideas regarding recency are more relevant than ever before. Thanks for inspiring us!
  3. Ron Stitt from Fox Television Stations , October 14, 2013 at 10 a.m.
    When I was doing marketing, promotion & sales development work at ABC in the '90s, nothing influenced me more (and was more helpful to me and my whole department) than TV Dimensions, the annual compendium of marketing & media research published by Erwin Ephron and Ed Papazian. I also saw Erwin speak a number of times (in addition to being very informative, he had a great wry sense of humor) and was privileged to talk to him once or twice. He is without doubt one of the giants of media of his generation - "guru" is definitely the word to describe him.
  4. Paul Silverman from Ennly- Mar , October 14, 2013 at 10:13 a.m.
    Rest In Peace my Friend.
  5. Ruby Gottlieb from The Media Advisory , October 14, 2013 at 10:20 a.m.
    So saddened to read this. Erwin was a mentor of my career while I worked with him for many years at Ephron, Raboy & Tsao in the 1980s, and for many years after as I continued on in my career. He was always there for me with any question I had along the way. He had a brilliant mind and a love for this business that will stay with me for the rest of my life. RIP Erwin.
  6. Bob Rose from Seiter & Miller , October 14, 2013 at 10:26 a.m.
    Anyone who was a serious practitioner of media in the '80's and beyond was aware of Erwin's work...he challenged us to think deeper, and in so doing made our contributions to our client's marketing stronger, and our craft more respected. Our paths crossed many times...and I always came away energized to push my own thought process further.
  7. Jack Poor from tvb , October 14, 2013 at 10:31 a.m.
    This is very sad news. Erwin consulted for TVB in the early '00s and it was always a pleasure to see Erwin and his Indiana Jones hat sweep into our conference room. He was a treat, made media fun, and will be much missed by all of us.
  8. Linda Thomas Brooks from LTB , October 14, 2013 at 11:30 a.m.
    I loved reading Erwin's newsletters, discussing ideas with him, and most of all I loved arguing with him! He was truly a scholar of the media business and his work added a lot of value. I'm sorry that more of us didn't know that he was ailing so that we could have told him what he meant to us before he left us.
  9. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy , October 14, 2013 at 11:31 a.m.
    As a lifetime mentor, Erwin had more influence on my career than anyone in the business. His capacity to understand the most complex media, advertising and research concepts and present them so simply and eloquently to us lesser mortals was a unique gift. Our industry has lost one of its true titans. Thanks for all the support and insights my dear friend and colleague!
  10. Stephanie Padgett from True Media , October 14, 2013 at 11:49 a.m.
    A sad day indeed. Erwin was such a visionary. I am a firm believer (and user) of recency theory based on his work. He indeed had a way with words. My favorite Erwin story is that my first case of plagiarism as a professor involved him. I had completely red-lined a paper and noted the quirky analogies and suggested a more direct style of writing. Later that week, I read many of the same words in an article from Erwin about the use of out of home media. Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery--those students definitely flattered him that day but it didn't help their grade. He will be missed!
  11. Steve Fajen from Steve Fajen Consulting inc. , October 14, 2013 at 11:55 a.m.
    I have known Erwin from my very first day in advertising at Nielsen. The guy sitting next to me pointed to him and said "That's one of the smartest people you will ever meet in advertising." He was right. We never lost touch. We worked together several times and I will truly miss Erwin. He was generous with his intellect and his time and always wonderful company. He inspired us all to be more creative.
  12. Leo Kivijarv from PQ Media , October 14, 2013 at 11:56 a.m.
    Erwin's insights on the changing media landscape will be missed. A number of his concepts have been cornerstones in the forecasting models we develop for our publications and clients. Our prayers go out to his family.
  13. Jack Hanrahan from Hanrahan Media Services , October 14, 2013 at 12:01 p.m.
    Saddened to hear the news of Erwin's passing. His writings and his speeches were always thought-provoking and we all benefited from his pragmatic approach to media planning.
  14. Mark Stewart from Townsquare Media , October 14, 2013 at 12:15 p.m.
    Very sad news. We've lost a giant in our industry. A scholar, innovator, pundit, booster, provocateur and life long student of our craft. An amazing blend of soaring intellect and grounded application. You will be missed Sir.
  15. Max Kalehoff from SocialCode , October 14, 2013 at 1:02 p.m.
    Erwin was not only stubbornly brilliant, he was progressive and open to new ideas. In my late twenties, when we were building BuzzMetrics (later acquired by Nielsen), he became fascinated with our work and was very generous in helping us translate and make it relevant to the conventional media institutions. He personally shared some of his best practices with me in his midetown office and, of course, made me read his book "Media Planning." Thanks for the write-up, Joe.
  16. Bill Harvey from TRA, Inc. , October 14, 2013 at 1:03 p.m.
    Erwin and i were lifelong friends. He was a deep thinker, an amazing communicator, and a natural leader, who loved and took care of everyone.
  17. Maren Woodlock from Noble Advertising , October 14, 2013 at 1:18 p.m.
    So very sad. I referred to Erwin's archives of media information a million times over the years. He was truly one of the giants of the media business and won't be forgotten.
  18. Judit Nagy from Fox Broadcasting Company , October 14, 2013 at 1:39 p.m.
    Saddened, we lost a media research warrior, who was never afraid to challenge the standard, and pushed the industry forward to be smarter and more intellectual. He was one of the very few who greatly impacted my very early media research years. RIP.
  19. Kathy Broniecki from Envoy, Inc. , October 14, 2013 at 1:55 p.m.
    RIP Mr. Ephron. A brilliant educator. I have dozens of worn out copies of his articles that have served as my media "Bible" throughout my career.
  20. Rob Frydlewicz from RAF Consulting , October 14, 2013 at 2:42 p.m.
    In the spring of 2012 I found myself standing next to Erwin at the corner of Grove and Bleecker Streets in the Village as we waited for the light. I learned that we were practically neighbors (and had been, unknowingly, for 20 years). A few weeks later I had the pleasure of accompanying him to the Metropolitan Museum to see an exhibit on Gertrude Stein. In the three or four hours we were together I learned so much about his career and life. The last time I saw him was last autumn when I came out of my apartment and he happened to be walking by. I expressed my condolences over the death of his cousin, Nora, and he told me it would have been too much of a strain for him to attend the funeral. As many others here have said, he had a wonderful way of explaining complex research concepts simply, and often with a sense of humor. He certainly will be missed.
  21. jamie korsen from independent , October 14, 2013 at 2:59 p.m.
    Was professionally and personally privileged to have worked closky w/Erwin; moreover, mentored. Initially, as consultant to Katz Television, regarding "recency planning." We traveled and met with advertising, media & marketing folks everywhere, attended trade functions, created ADWEEK co-sponsored multi-city speaking events... Erwin, an early adaptor of technology, loved the laptop with spread keyboard and created smart simple presentations that he profoundly presented (TV Buying Is Like Stuffing s Turkey). Sparing w/Erwin was an impossible task (for me, albeit remember John Phillip Jones always yielded a spirited debate) as he was the most intelligent articulate & innovative executive in the industry. A moving moment was when coached through writing a industry conference presentation. He wrote closing, "life is like a box of chocolates, you never never know what you're gonna get...Buying TV shouldn't be...Forrest Gump." Furthermore, became friends. Enormously enjoyed visiting loft in West Village & going to favorite corner french bistro. The industry landscape will never be the same w/o Erwin. Confident any/all fortunate enough to know Erwin feel unwaivering similar. Jamie Korsen
  22. Roger Baron from Roger Baron Media , October 14, 2013 at 4:36 p.m.
    I read with sadness the death of one of the greats in our business. I count myself lucky to have known him and to have worked with him on some of his projects. He had the rare ability to express media concepts in human terms and to make our business fun. He will be missed.
  23. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , October 14, 2013 at 5 p.m.
    I read a lot of his writings, and always appreciated the sense and realization that this does not have to be rocket science. Making it easier to understand for clients made you smarter, not the other way around.
  24. Rick Vosk from Carat USA , October 14, 2013 at 6:41 p.m.
    Very sad news. Erwin's teachings were instrumental in my career. He had a brilliant way of simplifying things and I only wish I could articulate complex issues the way he could. It was an honor to know him, and he will be greatly missed.
  25. Larry Miller from Triad Analytics, Inc , October 14, 2013 at 8:48 p.m.
    Rest in peace Erwin! You will be greatly missed and long remembered. Thanks for all you've done for our industry.
  26. Maarten Albarda from Flock Associates (USA) , October 14, 2013 at 9:01 p.m.
    Rest in piece, Erwin. I remember his sessions for the Global Media conference's at The Coca-Cola Company headquarters. Inspiring and influential.
  27. Todd Brewster from Media Buying Decisions , October 15, 2013 at 12:13 a.m.
    I remember the love the staff of Media Decisions had for Erwin, when he contributed to the magazine back in the 70's. He was a good man.
  28. Paul Fischer from The MediaCo Consulting Group , October 15, 2013 at 8:24 a.m.
    Erwin Ephron was an industry leader who deserved the respect enormous amount of respect received and accolades awarded. His opinion mattered. His thinking was clearer, better researched, more succinctly stated and usually distilled by conversations with other marketing and media heavy hitters, prior to making public commentaries. He and Ed Papazian led the industry in exciting, refreshing new paradigms for almost two decades. Much of what we do now is an outgrowth of what those two and their associates in that firm did during those years. But before and afterward Erwin was a clear voice that gave context, understanding and a tweak of the nose to stuffy media and marketing people, as he saw and communicated through the smog of their stuffiness. Since his retirement, Erwin's level-headed leadership has already been missed amid the confusion, clutter, churning and crypto-speak of current marketing and media indecision. Thanks, Erwin for being truly an expert, and for all the memories of how to do it the right way over the long haul.
  29. Cece Forrester from tbd , October 15, 2013 at 10:28 a.m.
    I never met him in person, but he gave me valued encouragement in my ideas, as well as being a general inspiration. I especially enjoyed the true Mad Men-era stories he shared on his web site.
  30. Susan Ephron from self , October 15, 2013 at 12:40 p.m.
    Thank you. The tributes posted here have been amazing and overwhelming. We had no idea our dad was such a media rock star. He never shared much of his professional life and likewise, I'm sure many commenters do not know he has three children (now living in Seattle and LA) and four grandchildren. We see glimpses of the man we knew in the comments--we also knew him as a man who favored simplicity over flash--a simple pasta from his favorite Italian restaurant, a vodka on the rocks with an orange twist, and a good Yankees game.
  31. Joe Mandese from MediaPost , October 15, 2013 at 1:16 p.m.
    @Susan Ephron: Please accept our condolences on behalf of your family. And please let us know if there are any plans to memorialize him, as I know a lot of his industry family would like to express that in person.
  32. Maurine Jeude from The Seattle Times Company , October 15, 2013 at 8:29 p.m.
    I never met Mr. Ephron but hearing of his passing feels like I lost a friend. I discovered his writings early in my career and later made his musings must-reading as I trained others in media analysis and optimization. Media, and the job it needed to do, was a sixth sense for him. And he shared and explained it all so well. His pragmatism about making media plans as keen and sharp as possible was both an inspiration and a challenge. Thank you, Mr. Ephron, and my condolences to all who knew and loved him; I can tell from the tributes that his legend status was well-deserved.
  33. John Billett from Johnbillett.com , November 7, 2013 at 1:23 p.m.
    Erwin Ephron was the most innovative, imaginative,creative free thinker I ever knew. Yet he combined those rare skills with a humility, approachability and supportive nature that allowed everyone regardless of their expertise to identify and empathise with him. Without his encouragement and support I could never have launched MPMA America, which became Billett's America and now called Ebiquity. He created the environment in which we were able to bring to the US a media evaluation service pioneered in Europe, and then launch it as the all American service. He was of enormous help in devising the service, creating the brand, introducing us to key people and was a shareholder we demanded. Without his knowledge we could not have overcome the inevitable initial scepticism and some downright hostility from those, some with vested interests who tried to deny the benefits of media pricing transparency. That media evaluation in the US is now an established success owes a little to me John Billett and a hell of a lot to Erwin Ephron. His presence may now be denied us but his spirit lives on the Ebiquity service led so outstandingly by PJ Leary as an inheritor of what Erwin helped create.
  34. Glen Bolofsky from parkingticket.com , December 21, 2013 at 6:41 p.m.
    I used to call Erwin Socrates - as I was his student. He was a giant in a small frame. We had lunch last Christmas on Bleecker St. - just around the block from where he lived. It was a cold and snowy New York December day. He taught me about recency and to take chances on various media. He missed his kids deeply and gave me a parting gift.....a ceramic camel that my daughter named Henry. Henry is in my office and when my daughter comes by she gives him a BIG HELLO. So, HELLO ERWIN!!!! I hope that whereever you may be on this WARM Winter Day of 12-21-2013 that you are smiling at an ad that strikes your fancy and I hope that I do you proud with my next media buy. Love ya buddy, Glen Bolofsky - glen@parkingticket.com
  35. Roger Baron from Roger Baron Media , December 21, 2013 at 10:04 p.m.
    Glen, yours is the latest of the many in our industry who lament Erwin's passing. I have to say, I am disappointed that there has not been a more formal memorial service as Joe suggested. I know I would come to New York for it. There is still time early in the new year. Anyone?
  36. Joe Mandese from MediaPost , December 21, 2013 at 11:16 p.m.
    Roger - Apologies if word did not get around, but there was a nice memorial service held in New York on Dec. 5th. There is a video of it here: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/41532431