In Memory: Frank N. Magid


Frank N. Magid, the chairman and founder of Frank N. Magid Associates, Inc., died in Santa Barbara, California, on Friday, February 5, 2010, after a courageous battle with lymphoma at the age of 78.

A native of Chicago, Mr. Magid earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Iowa. He became a member of the faculty of the Department of Sociology at the University of Iowa and also taught social psychology, anthropology, and statistics at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

His keen interest in human behavior, combined with his academic experiences, led Frank Magid to see the potential for using the scientific study of human behavior to gain practical business insights and competitive advantage.

The result was the founding of Frank N. Magid Associates in 1957.

 “I was fascinated by the research that I saw taking place in the academic world and wanted to apply what I’d learned in my academic background to what was happening in the commercial sphere,” Mr. Magid said in a 2007 interview with Broadcasting & Cable.

Through a few early projects, he found that his command of social scientific techniques could bring an entirely new dimension to the way a particular company or group approaches its business.

The success of those first research projects would generate great interest in Frank N. Magid Associates from a wide array of businesses and institutions.

As The Encyclopedia of Television (1999) put it, “His first clients were with businesses wanting to know why people behaved as they did.”

He brought his research methods to television 10 years later — starting with the hometown WMT-TV (now KGAN) in Cedar Rapids. “They hired us to help them improve their news. We did a study for them, and as a result their ratings soared,” Mr. Magid said.

 “Changes in editorial content and presentation style might cost them little or nothing to make, and yet have a profound impact on the value perceived by the consumer,” said Mr. Magid in an interview a few years ago to mark his company’s 50th anniversary.

Frank Magid was fond of a quote by Nobel Prize winner Albert Szent-Gyorgyi: “Research is to see what everybody else has seen and to think what nobody else has thought.”

In many respects, that served as a guiding principle throughout Mr. Magid’s career. He was devoted to leading the way in providing research-based insights that led to many of the biggest changes in media history. His most successful clients were those who implemented experimental ideas based on careful research. He saw himself and those who worked with him as agents of change.

 “In the early days of broadcasting, the stations were owned by entrepreneurs who saw broadcasting as an adventure. They were willing to experiment and willing to spend money to improve their business,” he said.
That willingness to experiment was always central to Mr. Magid’s professional philosophy.

Over the years, the company worked with all of the major broadcast networks. It was Frank Magid who, based on research his company had conducted, recommended that CBS feature Walter Cronkite as a solo anchorman on the CBS Evening News, catapulting Cronkite to a highly visible and successful career. Mr. Magid also played a key role in the development of ABC’s Good Morning America, which debuted in 1975, and helped to define the modern network show format and style.

Before either became industry standards, Mr. Magid recommended that his radio clients get into FM, and later asserted that broadcast TV stations should invest in cable.

 “They told me I was crazy,” he remembered. “The radio stations said that FM was just for classical music buffs” and “the TV stations said no one would ever pay for TV.”

He also saw great potential for local television stations with morning news before it turned out to be a huge growth area.

Time after time, Frank Magid demonstrated a visionary wisdom about the media industry. Through more than a decade of research for Stanley S. Hubbard, Mr. Magid and his company identified the viability of direct broadcast satellite television and helped to launch the satellite television industry. He also conducted the first research determining the feasibility of digital video recorders such as those popularized by TiVo.

Frank Magid continually pressed forward on the boundaries of media and entertainment research and consultation. That, in turn, inevitably led to an evolution in the scope of the company’s expertise and an expanded physical presence, with the addition of offices in Los Angeles and New York taking place in the early 1990s.

Experience and success in one area would progressively lead to opportunities for growth in others. Mr. Magid and his team added first-run syndicators, cable programmers, movie studios, hundreds of online information and entertainment Web sites, newspaper and magazine publishers, video game developers, and major wireless carriers to the company’s constantly growing roster of successful clients.

Helping organizations and companies of all stripes gain a distinct market advantage through research-based counsel inspired Mr. Magid and his firm to pursue ever greater levels of insight. The resulting tradition of innovation continues to yield new methods, techniques, and ideas aimed at helping those clients reach new heights.

Mr. Magid always encouraged his associates to be results oriented. He frequently insisted, “We have no use for information that is merely interesting.” From a professional standpoint, he took great satisfaction in broadening his employees’ horizons and ensuring that they took pride in making “unusual contributions to their clients’ success.”

In 2002, he retired as CEO of Frank N. Magid Associates, when he was succeeded by his son, Brent, but remained chairman of the company until his death.

In 2003, Frank Magid was inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame.

Beyond the company that bears his name, Frank Magid held memberships in several professional organizations devoted to research and public opinion. His unique contributions to the field have been recognized with honors from his research peers and from numerous trade groups. He served on the National Board of The Smithsonian Institution and was head of Direct Relief International, a humanitarian relief organization. Mr. Magid was involved in several other civic and charitable organizations, including Ensemble Theatre, the University of Iowa Alumni Association, and KCLU Radio in Santa Barbara.

Frank Magid is survived by his wife, Marilyn; a brother, Gail, of Santa Cruz, Calif.; sons Brent, of Minneapolis, and Creighton, of Washington, D.C.; and four grandchildren.
–Magid Morning Facts