Brad Adgate is the renaissance man of media research. The senior vp of corporate research for Horizon Media for the past eight years, Adgate is one of only a few researchers in the business that is considered a generalist, continually surveying the entire media landscape. That's not easy to do when technology developers are bent on creating new media every day.
He is also a student of the history of media research. Not unlike Winston Churchill—one of Adgate's favorite historical figures—who would recount a Civil War battle using silverware and salt shakers, Adgate can detail the success and failure of any number of research wars over the past few decades, from the meter wars of the 1980s to current research tussles over commercial ratings, DVR viewing and the integration of new media platforms.
Both are traits Horizon's clients find invaluable as they try to navigate myriad options for their media plans. Adgate doesn't plan how Horizon's clients will spend their media dollars, but his perspective is often behind the more than $1.6 billion Horizon spends for clients including The History Channel, Geico, Jack-in-the-Box and NBC Universal.
"Brad is analytical and strategic. He's a visionary," says Dan Davids, president of The History Channel USA. "He puts a lot of things in perspective. Like Wayne Gretsky who knew where the puck was going, Brad is helping his clients understand where the market is going to go."
Few in media research are as quoted or as prolific as Adgate. He's appeared and provided expert commentary to numerous news programs on CNN, Fox News, CNBC, Bloomberg Television and Radio, National Public Radio and CBS Sunday Morning. He's been quoted in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Fortune and is a regular source for Mediaweek.
"With clients and with the press, what makes him so quotable is he always makes research understandable to the layman. He goes out of his way to make sure he's communicating," says Carl Kotheimer, executive vp and director of marketing services, general manager, and partner for Horizon. "A lot of people just give you a data dump. With Brad it's more than that, it's relevant."
Adgate really "gets his hands dirty," he says, in writing "On the Horizon," a regular report for Horizon and its clients that in each issue delves into a single hot topic. "It's like doing a term paper," says Adgate, who is working on No. 72. For Adgate, there's almost nothing better than reading stacks of articles and surfing through the Internet researching his selected topic (except for maybe reading a book about Churchill or Lincoln). Known for their length and breadth, Adgate's "On the Horizon" white papers have provided detailed analysis on media and research topics including demographic groups such as teens and Hispanics, and new media such as blogs, DVRs and cell phones.
"Most people don't write [reports like that] anymore. Most research is on the fly," says Henry Laura, vp of key accounts for TNS Media Intelligence, who has known Adgate for more than 25 years.
As if he didn't have enough to do, Adgate recently launched a second publication, "The Horizon Report," which details the latest news across all the media segments. "After watching The West Wing and seeing how the President gets briefed on world events each day, I thought it would be a good idea to do something similar about media for our clients. It also helps us keep on top of the industry a little better," Adgate says.
"There are people who hoard information; Brad likes to share it," says Tom Ziangas, senior vp of sales and marketing for Nielsen Media Research's cable division, NHI.
Says Adgate: "I try to be a human Wikipedia. Those who don't share information are hurting themselves and hurting their company."
Adgate's generalist approach to research grew from his first research position in 1978 at Grey Advertising under Helen Johnston (Mediaweek All-Star 1994), who helped shape the role of media research in advertising and elevated its role in planning and buying. "Research has become too specialized and people work in silos. If you work in print, you don't know broadcast," says Adgate. "I try to be a general practitioner. I lean toward TV, but I'm fascinated with new technology, consumer-generated videos and content on cell phones."
He expanded his perspective with positions on the media side, at Fox Family Channel, Group W Satellite Communications' TNN and Country Music TV, Turner Broadcasting and LBS Communications. "You look at things a little differently working on both sides; you're a little more objective," Adgate says.
"I've talked with him about our strategic issues," says Nielsen's Ziangas, who worked with Adgate at the Family Channel. "We have our back and forth. The good thing is he understands there are different ways to look at research. I know he represents the buy side, but he also understands the sell side."
That attitude has made Adgate a welcome addition to industry committees on which he serves, including Arbitron's Radio Agency Advisory Council, TNS Media Intelligence's Advisory Council, the research committee for the Advertising Association of Advertising Agencies, the Advertising Research Foundation and the Media Rating Council. "We always joke at Horizon that when Millionaire was on, Adgate would be the lifeline you'd call," says Kotheimer.
Adgate is certainly a lifeline for the people that have worked for him over the years. With all that he has accomplished, Adgate is most proud of the fact that former colleagues continue to stay in touch. "Knowing they'll call me from time to time, that says a lot. When you're a boss, you have some control. But once they leave and they still call you, that's a real compliment," Adgate says. "Research isn't just a numbers business, it's a people business." Katy Bachman is a senior editor for Mediaweek.