|J&S Printing of Birmingham, Ala., prints student newspapers for 1,500 schools.
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The media agency, which plans and places advertising in college campuses, has entered into an agreement with J&S Printing, which prints 1,500 high school newspapers nationwide. The agreement will allow CMG to sell ads on a national or regional basis, while guaranteeing advertisers quality control, said Tom Borgerding, president-CEO of CMG.
However, the timing of such a venture could prove tricky. With the recent regulatory spotlight on advertising to children and studies linking food advertising to rising rates of childhood obesity, advertisers are on the defensive. Some school districts have rescinded marketing agreements with fast-food and soft-drink companies.
The move also comes just several weeks after the nation's largest organization of psychologists issued a report damning the increasing commercialization of childhood and calling for new curbs on marketing aimed at children.
CMG plans to filter the advertising for content, Mr. Borgerding said. Certain advertisers, such as R-rated films, will be rejected outright, and schools will be able to opt out of any advertising they think is objectionable. CMG will pursue "fairly traditional" advertisers such as retailers, apparel and food and beverage companies, Mr. Borgerding said.
"I don't think the high school newspapers will have trouble," Mr. Borgerding said. "I hope the advertisers are wise enough to decide which message to send."
Childrens' spending power
For marketers, the ability to reach a national audience of teenage consumers is appealing, given the group's increasing levels of discretionary income.
"The youth segment has an unexpectedly high spending power," said Jennifer Moore, account supervisor at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Gotham, which is running a four-month test for AT&T Wireless with CMG.
Teenagers spent $175 million in 2003, 3% more than in 2002, according to market researcher Teenage Research Unlimited. In a recent study of the spending habits of the 12-to-19 set, TRU found the 33 million U.S. teenagers spent an average of $103 per week last year. More importantly, 45% of teens expect to spend more this year and only 21% will spend less.
"It's definitely a large market and it's ... under-tapped, but it's difficult to tap correctly," Ms. Moore said.
She readily acknowledges the responsibility that comes with using high school newspapers to get out marketing messages. Advertisers also need to watch out for content pitfalls, she noted. "We do believe we have a responsibility to be age-appropriate," she said.
CMG is running a four-month test with AT&T Wireless through April. Although the test is not complete, it appears to be doing well, Mr. Borgerding said. Since AT&T Wireless is in the process of being acquired by rival Cingular, Mr. Borgerding said CMG is having discussions with Cingular about continuing as an advertiser.
One of the challenges of advertising in high-school papers is ensuring the quality of ad placement and delivery of tear sheets to the advertisers after the fact, Mr. Borgerding said.
Cash to schools
The arrangement with J&S takes care of the quality-control issues -- ads are placed by the printer, with CMG acting as the papers' sales representative -- while the schools benefit from either cash revenue or a rebate on their printing costs, he said.
While the venture starts with the 1,500 newspapers printed by J&S, Mr. Borgerding said the market has a strong potential. "There are more high schools out there than there are newspapers," he said.