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Lights, Camera, Stock Picks: When Analysts Become TV Stars

You don't have to be famous to be a securities analyst. But it couldn't hurt.

That's one way to interpret the results from TheStreet.com's Analyst Rankings -- Equity 2000 survey. It turns out that many of the analysts who spend hours each week talking to reporters or appearing on TV shows -- when they might be boning up on balance sheets -- also are among the best in the business.

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Some media darlings who measure up: Ubiquitous Merrill Lynch Internet bull Henry Blodget is No. 1 in Internet software; Morgan Stanley's Mary Meeker -- probably the only analyst to be profiled in The New Yorker -- is No. 3. Lehman Brothers analyst Dan Niles (formerly at Robertson Stephens), who was all over CNBC last year, is a triple threat: No. 4 in computer storage and peripherals, No. 3 in computer hardware and No. 2 in semiconductors.

Dana Telsey, Apparel Retailing

Dana Telsey
And then there's Bear Stearns' retailing analyst Dana Telsey. Ranked No. 1 in both apparel retail and specialty stores, the mediagenic 37-year-old is all over the tube. On CNN's Moneyline. On the PBS show Nightly Business Report. On CNNfn talking about retail-sector downgrades. Last December, you could have seen her holiday-shopping sound bite on the CBS Evening News. As surely as Kmart (KM) issues disappointing numbers on the first Thursday of the month, there's Dana Telsey on some financial news show picking over the retail industry's same-store sales.

It's no accident that when you think of retailing analysts, you think of Telsey. She figures that getting her name out there is good for business and an essential part of her job. "I basically believe in having publicity to hopefully enhance my reputation as an industry expert," she says. "If by having a name that's known helps me learn more about my industry," she says, "then the media is playing a positive role."

For Telsey, it all started innocently enough. Seven or eight years ago, when she was an analyst at CJ Lawrence, someone called her up to see if she could talk on TV about retailing. "I remember afterwards saying, 'That was great. Please call me again if you ever need retail commentary.' And they did."

Telsey puts a lot of thought into how she manages her exposure in the media. Although she might talk to retail trade magazines, she hardly ever does newspaper interviews, she says. "You can be misquoted. You don't know the context in which your quotes are being used. ... With TV and radio, you're in charge of your own words, essentially."

Though she shows up on TV more than the average equity analyst, she does have her limits. Telsey is protective of her private life, and has no interest in doing any TV pieces about, say, a day in the life of a Wall Street analyst. But if you want to talk about how a postage-rate increase is affecting catalog-retailer profits, she's there.

And the more she appears, the more TV producers want her. "One thing that sets Dana apart is that she's exceptionally well prepared," says Andy Breslau, director of guest booking for CNNfn. "She knows what she wants to say, she's done her research, she knows the rhythm of a TV interview."

When booking guests, says Breslau, the top priority is the quality of their commentary. "You want to have people who have a depth of knowledge, whose expertise can be assessed and documented, and who can bring value to the discussion," he says. "And sometimes you have to deal with information that's not presented in the most telegenic fashion. So be it," he says. But if you can get both high-quality information and a media-friendly presentation, he asks, "Why not?"

Has the promotional payoff from media-savvy analysts prompted Wall Street firms to try to put more of them in front of the cameras? So far, it doesn't look that way, says Breslau. He hasn't encountered any pushy publicists trying to get their people on the air. "The most aggressive it gets is they'll try to be helpful," he says.

Still, a number of brokerage firms and mutual fund companies have installed cameras in their offices --- making it easy for analysts and portfolio managers to do quick, remote, on-camera interviews rather than having to spend two hours round-tripping to the studio for a three-minute appearance. When Breslau started booking guests for CNNfn three years ago, he says, about seven of the firms had cameras. "Now it's 30 or more," he says.

That growth lets CNNfn and others be pickier. "It gives us an opportunity to be more skeptical and more selective," he says. "The pool is bigger of people who might make themselves available."

Lanny Baker, Internet Software & Services

Lanny Baker
Some analysts continue to resist the pressure to jump in. Take Salomon Smith Barney online media analyst Lanny Baker. He's No. 2 in his group, sandwiched between two super high-profile analysts: Blodget and Meeker. But as far as getting his name in the press, Baker, 33, is way behind. If you type in Internet and the names of these three analysts in the search box of the Dow Jones Interactive database, Meeker's name pops up in 918 articles since early 1998. Blodget's appears 1,713 times. For Baker, the magic number is 124. He estimates he's been on TV less than a dozen times over the past 11 years.

Getting his message out through the media doesn't seem right to Baker. "It feels better to spend that time communicating with our clients and salespeople directly," he says, "rather than have those clients and salespeople -- who we want to come to depend on us for real research -- hear it from us through the mouthpiece of The New York Post or whatever."

And while TV might make him known to a lot of people, it won't convince people he knows a lot, he says. "There's a big difference between spending 45 seconds on CNBC and spending 45 minutes with a portfolio manager."

But he has nothing against his rivals who are fixtures on TV. "There are definitely people who use it well," he says. There are no set rules of how to do the analyst's job, he points out: "I sit next to six other analysts," he says. "They all run their shop in a different way. There's no right or wrong."


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