Tribune Sets Its Sights on New York Times' Luxury Ads

Sets Up National Network With Rivals in Dallas, Philadelphia, San Francisco

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Tribune Co., which made news over the summer by taking over national-ad sales for the rival Dallas Morning News, is teaming up with a larger group of newspapers it doesn't own in a bid to attract luxury retail ads.

Tribune, which publishes the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel and other papers, has enlisted the Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News in a new initiative called LX365 aimed at attracting national ad buys from the luxe likes of Chanel, Gucci and Prada, a group that has generally shunned papers other than The New York Times.

The seven-paper group will sell access to all the newsprint, glossy and digital platforms its partner papers offer in a one-stop-shopping format intended to make it easier for luxury advertisers to make the sort of broad national buy via newspapers that's long been considered too arduous by many media buyers.

Tribune365 President Don Meek said the idea for the broader luxury coalition came about during a meeting with Hearst Corp. executives in San Francisco earlier this year. "We wanted an easier, more efficient way for advertisers," Mr. Meek said. "And, in talking about categories, luxury was a clear priority for the fourth quarter."

Leader in the category
Luxury advertisers were tough gets for newspapers even before the industry's recent free fall. The major exception, however, has been The New York Times, which boasts a "luxury well" of high-end ads on pages A2 and A3. (The Friday, Oct. 23, national edition featured Chanel, Tourneau, Gucci, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Robert Marc, Ebel, Tiffany & Co., Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale's, for instance.)

"They are the leader in this category for a number of reasons," Mr. Meek said.

While the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times have succeeded in the category to a lesser extent, LX365 is attempting to challenge the Times' dominance. It won't be easy, because most luxury advertisers place a hefty premium on surrounding their ads with those from equally upscale brands, and most regional newspapers have struggled to draw high-end brands.

Still, Mr. Meek said advertisers who analyze the demographics of the communities served by LX365 papers may find it offers an opportunity to reach more affluent readers than they could otherwise. He said the ZIP codes served by the seven LX365 properties reach more than 1 million millionaire households, and that newspapers tend to overindex in affluent households.

"I don't think we've positioned papers correctly (when it comes to luxury advertising)," Mr. Meek said. "I don't think advertisers have understood the relative affluence of engaged newspaper readers."

'Makes perfect sense'
In a statement, Houston Chronicle VP Ken Whitfield said: "The Houston Chronicle is excited about the possibilities of our new partnership. Houston has such a strong fashion- and design-savvy population; making it easier for advertisers to access our market as a part of this network makes perfect sense."

The luxury initiative with non-Tribune papers comes on the heels of the company adding Belo's Dallas Morning News to its Tribune365 national-sales effort. That effort was supposed to free up the resource-strapped sales staff of the Dallas daily to focus on local advertising, while still being able to land some national-ad revenue; Tribune, for its part, would pocket a few extra sales commissions.

While Mr. Meek didn't provide specific early results, he made it clear the effort still has a ways to go in what remains a challenging economic environment for all media, and newspapers in particular. "Are we down less than we otherwise might have been? Hard to say."

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