Nuggets in a down market

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Tightening ad budgets have turned media buyers into ever more creative bargain hunters. Here's what a panel of media agency buyers offered when Advertising Age asked for examples of the best deals and media steals of the year:

Client: Subway Restaurants

Agency: MediaCom, New York

Buyer: Peter Olson, senior

VP-national broadcast

Hot deal: Nascar tie-in

Looking to expand Subway's presence in sporting events, Grey Global Group's MediaCom looked into auto racing and found a steal for the fast-food chain.

"We identified Nascar on Fox as a great opportunity for Subway," says Mr. Olson. "Nascar's demographics are becoming increasingly upscale, and a series of new Nascar rights fee deals created surpluses at various levels."

For a "very reasonable" but undisclosed fee this year, Subway ran multiple units on 10 Nascar races broadcast on News Corp.'s Fox. MediaCom also arranged through the Talladega (Ala.) Speedway to be title sponsor of a race in April, the Subway 300. Subway received billboards and on-air features in the local markets of each race it sponsored.

MediaCom also negotiated deals with drivers to be sponsored by Subway for one race only.

Client: A&E Networks'

History Channel

Agency: Horizon Media, New York

Buyer: Matt Leible, director of out-of-home media

Hot deal: Transit advertising blitz

To get attention for the History Channel's "Egypt" documentary airing last spring, Horizon Media worked closely with creative shop Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, New York, to make the most of a broad transit media buy using public buses in the Big Apple.

Splashed across the sides of buses was the "Egypt" logo in large letters, but the campaign also made it look as if Egyptians were riding the bus by showing ancient riders holding onto strap hangers. "The Egyptians were positioned to look like passengers, and it really made people turn and look," says Mr. Leible. Horizon and Kirshenbaum also put images of Egyptians on the beams atop a Manhattan construction site. "Everywhere you looked, you saw 'Egypt'-it was inescapable and it really drove a lot of impressions," Mr. Leible says.

The campaign used transit and outdoor advertising in other major markets, but it was crucial to concentrate on Manhattan "because it's very high-profile, it's a pedestrian market and with the right creative you can really blow out a message people won't forget," Mr. Leible says. "We really got mileage out of this one, for a reasonable cost."

Client: Arizona Office of Tourism

Agency: Moses Anshell, Phoenix

Buyer: Bob Walters, VP-marketing communications and media buying chief

Hot deal: Renegotiating the media plan in a softening economy

For Arizona tourism's $11 million campaign, Moses Anshell handles both creative and media buying. This year the agency has snapped up additional media at discount rates.

"We tend to plan the media more than a year in advance," says Mr. Walters. When the market for broadcast, outdoor and print started to soften about a year ago, Moses Anshell's buyers quickly adjusted media plans in key markets to expand the reach, Mr. Walters says.

For a campaign hitting the Chicago market last February, Moses Anshell negotiated lower rates on spot TV and radio, and achieved almost 50% more rating points for the planned spot TV buy than the original goal, he says.

"With additional money we saved, we added more transit advertising to the media plan, boosting media impressions by 6.3 million. With the final chunk of money saved through such adjustments, we added cinema ads in Seattle and Portland [Ore.]. Overall, we far exceeded our goals in key travel markets in the dead of winter," Mr. Walters says.

Looking ahead, media prices are now soft in many local markets in spot TV, radio and outdoor, so Moses Anshell is jumping on those opportunities now, making longer-range media buys and locking in rates for its client.

Client: U.S. Postal Service

Agency: MediaCom, New York

Buyer: John Connolly, senior VP-director of out-of-home media

Hot media: Mailboxes and more

Even mail delivery has turned into an out-of-home advertising experience, with the U.S. Postal Service recently making certain assets available for advertising. Mr. Connolly believes the Postal Service is a relatively inexpensive media channel untapped by advertisers, and it can offer powerful exposure.

The Postal Service's ad media offer mind-bogglingly high estimated annual impressions, such as vehicles (187 billion impressions), letter boxes (154 billion), interior advertising in post offices (3 billion), Express/Priority Mail envelopes (300 million) and presence on (32 million), Mr. Connolly says. Costs per thousand range from $13 for mail envelopes to $2-$3 for trucks and boxes. Discounts of more than 60% are available for multiple-month programs.

MediaCom is recommending Postal Service media for clients including AOL Time Warner's Warner Bros. for its "Harry Potter" film opening in November.

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