ALMOST every investor knows what Peter Lynch looks like.
But soon the fabled Magellan Fund manager, with the glasses, silvery hair and hands of gold, will be a faded image in a sea of financial talking heads.
Brokerage firms, money management companies and mutual fund operations are bending over backward to get their "gurus" on financial television shows like CNBC's "Squawk Box" and CNN's "Moneyline."
Investors' appetite for information about the market has exploded, and the firms have figured out that a little glitz and personality can go a long way. One of the cheapest and easiest ways to reach the investing masses is by putting a smart, well-scrubbed talking head on the tube.
"What we hope to get is obviously some exposure for Legg Mason," said Richard Cripps, the chief market strategist at Baltimore- based Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc.
Cripps uses the air time to "demonstrate to potential clients who are watching that we are knowledgeable on the markets and knowledgeable about our area of expertise, and someone to do business with."
He makes about two dozen television appearances a year on CNBC and CNN. But the company expects even greater exposure once Legg installs its own television camera on its trading floor sometime this year.
Cripps sees his air time doubling to four shows a month. But the real payoff will come by giving William H. Miller III -- the firm's hot mutual funds manager -- more exposure, as well as analysts, who can be ready to comment on breaking events at a minute's notice.
T. Rowe Price is also kicking around the camera idea.
"You increase your name recognition and you can reach a much broader range of people," said Steven E. Norwitz, a spokesman with the Baltimore-based mutual fund company. "We do a lot more TV interviews, but we could do it a lot more easily if we could walk down the hall."
Money managers and market strategists are busy people, and appearing on CNBC or CNN can eat up time. Cripps has had to travel to Fort Lee, N.J., or Owings Mills to do shows on CNBC. He heads to Washington and New York to appear on CNN.
CNBC recently asked Price to make a mutual fund manager available for a two-hour show.
"It is a whole day out of the office to do the show," Norwitz said. "We want our portfolio managers focusing on their portfolios, not doing TV interviews. That is a lot for me to say considering I'm in public relations."
But Norwitz is aware that if a Price portfolio manager doesn't fill the time slot, somebody else will.
That somebody could be Joseph V. Battipaglia, chief of investment policy, at New York-based Gruntal & Co.
Battipaglia is one of the kings of the talking heads. He appears on all of the major business shows about once a week -- CNN, CNBC, public television's "Nightly Business Report."
It's good marketing and good business, he says.
"I know for a fact that people have called in to the firm and have become accounts of ours directly from the television," Battipaglia said. "It is not the road to riches, but it is an immediate payback for the small investment. All you are really donating is time."
Battipaglia's office is across from the New York Stock Exchange, which has its own camera, so he can knock out an interview in minutes.
Gruntal is small potatoes compared with Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. and Merrill Lynch & Co., so Battipaglia feels that it is in the company's best interest to put him on television.
"For a firm like ours it is name recognition, credibility and thirdly it is a relatively inexpensive way to get our message out in a broad way. Unlike Merrill Lynch, which will spend millions on an image campaign, we rely on this exposure to present ourselves in the best light," he said.
Battipaglia says there is plenty at stake if he botches an interview with a wrong prediction, but that is debatable. Michael Metz, a sworn bear and the chief portfolio strategist with New York-based Oppenheimer & Co., has been wrong on the market's direction for years. Yet, the business shows keep asking him back.
One of these days Metz could be right, and then he'll be a superstar, like Lynch.
Battipaglia is already having his taste of fame.
"I have people in train stations stop me," he said. "I have delivery people come to my house and say, 'I have seen you on TV.' It's not like I was on 'Seinfeld.' "
Pub Date: 5/03/98