BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE : APRIL 3, 2000 ISSUE
COVER STORY

So You Want to Be a Talking Head


It's Tuesday, Mar. 7, at 9:49 a.m., and the Nasdaq has just crossed the 5000 mark for the first time. CNNfn's director of guest booking, Andrew Breslau, and five assistants are frantically fielding pitch calls from Wall Street firms who want to get their strategists on the air to chat about Nasdaq's new record for the 6:30 p.m. Moneyline. ''In just two years since I've been here, financial media has exploded. Is it because of the bull market, or have we helped cause the bull market? I think it's a little of both,'' he says.

Breslau, 40, is one of the most in-demand players in all of media these days. He fields some 120 phone calls and up to 200 e-mails a day from brokerages, investment banks, and public-relations agencies who are looking for airtime. The pitches range from the ordinary, such as a call for analysts to discuss major corporate mergers, to the extraordinary, such as stock market astrologers. ''Put it this way--I have 100 ways of politely saying 'no,''' he says. And especially with the stock market hitting so many noteworthy highs and lows of late, Breslau says his job has a perpetual air of frenetic uncertainty.

On a desktop computer in CNN-fn's newsroom, Breslau has a stash of some 1,000 names of stock market experts. He prefers to use ''proven talent''--that is, Wall Streeters who won't get that ''deer in the headlights'' look in front of a camera. ''We look for 'popularizers' at CNNfn,'' he says. That means analysts who have credibility but are able to distill complex issues into simple language--in other words, spokespersons who can popularize the stock market. ''I ask myself this question: Can this person move the market?'' he says.

Sometimes Breslau is the one on bended knee, scrambling at the last minute to book hard-to-get market mavens such as Goldman Sachs's Abby Joseph Cohen or Lehman Brothers' Jeffrey Applegate. Indeed, his biggest coup so far at CNNfn was nabbing Prudential Securities' Ralph Acampora, the famous Dow prognosticator, on Mar. 29, 1999--the day the Dow closed above 10000. ''We got him and CNBC didn't,'' Breslau says with gloating held in check.

But on this day (Mar. 7) at 3:45 p.m. the sudden big news is not the Nasdaq, which is falling short of 5000, but the Dow, which will likely close below 10000 for the first time since last April. Breslau and his team scramble to get going on a ''Dow under-10000'' special. Can he get Acampora to come on for a repeat performance? ''Acampora's temporarily out of commission,'' says Breslau. Turns out he's currently holed up, penning a book about the bull market.

By Marcia Vickers in New York

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