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Want to stand out? High-tech goes NPR

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First it was banners. Then it was billboards. Now, an increasing number of electronic-commerce companies are finding marketing success on an even more traditional venue, National Public Radio.

Teligent, SAP America and CyberCash are among the more than 20 e-commerce companies on NPR's sponsor list, said Jack Gilmore, NPR's director of corporate marketing.

The companies' marketing executives said Washington-based NPR has proven an ideal medium for reaching the high-level technology professionals who buy software and Web services, given that its audience skews heavily toward a highly educated, executive listenership.

Plus, sponsorships--10- to 15-second mentions of a company's name and a thumbnail sketch of what it does--are a way to stand out from the crowded .com ad field.

"The competition factor is insane," said Alan Caruba, founder of The Caruba Organization, a Maplewood, N.J.-based media consulting firm. "You can be on the Net and no one would know it."

The company you keep

Given the crowded, start-up nature of the e-commerce field, one of the intangible benefits of sponsoring NPR is the immediate trustworthiness a company gains by associating itself with the radio station, said Lisa Baldwin, director of advertising for SAP America.

"Part of the beauty of NPR is that it's so well respected," Ms. Baldwin said. "It gives us instant credibility to be associated with [NPR]."

Newtown Square, Pa.-based SAP America included NPR sponsorships as part of its recently launched branding campaign.

At the same time, some small, relatively unestablished e-commerce companies see NPR sponsorships as a way to gain widespread recognition through one venue. eTranslate, a Web-based language translation service, chose to limit its advertising solely to NPR as a buildup to its first extensive branding campaign, slated to launch in November.

The San Francisco-based company is paying $8,000 to $12,000 a month for three daily mentions on NPR per market, said John Burke, VP-marketing.

NPR could not give prices for sponsorships, saying it varies from market to market and by program. For example, a company can decide to sponsor a particular show, such as "All Things Considered," and handpick different markets where its sponsorship will run.

Quality of audience

Apart from cost and reputation, a key factor for many of these high-tech companies in opting for sponsorships is NPR's audience.

Sponsoring NPR "is all about audience," said Sheila Blackwell, director of marketing for Vienna, Va.-based Teligent. "It has a thought-leadership audience."

Ms. Blackwell would not disclose Teligent's current advertising budget, but said last year's budget was between $5 million and $10 million.

"NPR appeals to a high-income audience," said Larry Vale, director of marketing for Boston-based Keane Inc., an information technology services consultant. "[Many listeners] are senior executives at Fortune 1,000 companies."

Mr. Vale said Keane advertises in more than 170 NPR markets and spends "hundreds of thousands" on NPR sponªsorships.

Michael McNamara, media director for Katsin/Loeb Advertising, San Francisco, said, "The reality is NPR doesn't get as good a cross-section of listeners [as some radio stations], but has the best listenership of company owners." Mr. McNamara plans Reston, Va.-based CyberCash's media buying. He did not reveal budget details.

The quality of its audience is a message that NPR has been spreading in an effort to court even more high-tech companies. Mr. Gilmore says NPR has been approaching advertising agencies, including New York-based Bozell Worldwide, with the message that the radio station is a highly targeted venue for reaching upper-level business executives.

Still, given the increasing number of high-tech sponsors on board, eTranslate worries that NPR may be reaching a critical mass in this area, Mr. Burke said.

"It seems like NPR may have reached a saturation point, but what hasn't?" he said. "The trade magazines have reached the size of encyclopedias. Compared to other media, NPR is less saturated."

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