Essentially, Media Passage and Publicitas/Globe Media's advertising services division make available a similar slate of services and promises: Media executives can have electronic access to ad rates, schedules, ad sizes, frequency, edition, demographics and psychographics in hundreds of markets nationwide.
The tasks of media planning, order placement and insertion ordering each can take place in a few keystrokes. Then, either service can handle back-office implementation, verification, consolidated invoicing and tear-sheet collection.
EASIER TO BUY
"We've made it easy to buy newspapers, and we're continuing to make it easier," says Barbara Krasne, president-CEO of the Publicitas unit. "The goal is to continue to win a greater share of national advertising media spending."
While Media Passage and Publicitas are national in scope, there remain a large number of independent newspaper sales representatives, as well as national sales offices for large dailies. Media Passage and Publicitas are the only services, however, that offer national access to dailies, weeklies, shoppers and pennysavers.
Signs that both services are gearing up for competition in the electronic placement service industry include Media Passage's $5.4 million private equity placement. Investors include Swiss and U.S. venture capitalists, with the proceeds intended for reinvestment in growth.
TOUCHES 1,400 PAPERS
Media Passage to date has more than $100 million in billings; it places ads in more than 1,400 U.S. papers for such clients as Minneapolis Star Tribune, Florida Newspaper Advertising Network, Einstein/Noah Bagel Corp. and Sports Authority.
"We use leading-edge technologies and apply them to the challenge of newspaper planning and buying," says Gilbert Scherer, CEO at Media Passage.
For example, Media Passage provides a Web site (www.mediapassage.com) where clients can upload art files and newspapers can download ad materials. Any advertising insertion order from Media Passage contains the Internet address where newspapers can download the file. Newspapers no longer have to wait for satellite transmission or over-night delivery of the ad materials.
The Web site allows increased access to the ads.
INFO ON WEB
In addition, Media Passage offers media kits advertisers can use at the Web site to retrieve the most current sales and marketing information for various newspapers.
Advertisers using the system include U S West, United Airlines and Ford Motor Co. Newspapers on the receiving end include The Boston Globe, Atlanta Journal Constitution, and Chicago Tribune.
For its part, Publicitas last year introduced a computerized business management system that integrates analysis, planning, processing, placement and verification services.
Ms. Krasne is seen as "bringing new vigor" to Publicitas in its attempt to broaden its reach beyond its perceived niche as the one order, one invoice service for the National Newspaper Network.
The NNN -- launched in 1994 as a for-profit limited partnership subsidiary of the Newspaper Association of America -- provides a flat cost per thousand to advertisers in certain targeted categories, such as pharmaceuticals. NNN handles scheduling and rate negotiation, with Publicitas handling implementation and back-office services.
"Each service [Publicitas and Media Passage] has its strengths," notes Steve Greenberger, senior VP-director of print media, Grey Advertising, New York. "And both do help with the insertion and implementation, which is a big help when you're making bulk buys."
NOT ENTIRE SOLUTION
"These services are a help, but not an entire solution," agrees Paul Bankert, print supervisor at Zenith Media, New York. "They certainly have helped a great deal with the back office, but they can't negotiate rates. That's still something that we have to handle directly."
What agencies are searching for -- and have yet to find -- is a service that can help them tap into the current pulse of the newspaper marketplace.
"What we all want is a system that includes the tremendous resources of Donovan [media planning system] as well as the ease of one-stop buying and implementation," says Jeanette Gatto, senior VP-group media planning director at Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco -- a Media Passage client. "This is not to say that [Media Passage] hasn't been a help, because the paperwork of newspaper buys is a nightmare, but there's so much more that could be included."
Still, as Mr. Bankert acknowledges, having the services handle placement, "which is still a monumental task," does allow media planners and buyers to spend more time on the "creative" aspects of newspaper planning and rate negotiation.
EASIER TO TRACK
"There's no question that more advertisers are interested in using newspapers because they have become so easy to buy and keep track of," says Mr. Greenberger. "It's a combination of both increased interest in the medium as well as the comfort level . . . of having the paperwork taken care of."
Certainly, newspapers themselves have been beneficiaries of the national one-stop shops.
"Our job is to put more advertising into newspapers, and [these services] help us serve our own clients better," says Bob Berry, president of Florida Newspaper Advertising Network. "It allows us to concentrate on the sales and marketing of the newspapers, not get bogged down in all the details. And we know that it has brought in new advertising."
NICHE FOR SPONGES
Among newcomers to Florida newspapers, Mr. Berry says, has been a $3 million campaign from 3M Co.'s O-Cel-O sponges, and placements by retailers such as Publix Super Markets and Eckerd Drug Co.
"I'm confident that these services have removed many of the obstacles advertisers face with newspapers and that's led to an increase in their spending in newspapers in general and the Star Tribune in particular," says Tom Mohr, the paper's senior VP-general manager/marketer customer unit. Mr. Mohr, however, could not breakout any specific spending increase.
Einstein/Noah Bagel Corp. recently opened retail outlets in the Twin Cities and is a new advertiser in the Star Tribune.
"We spent $4.5 million in newspapers nationally in 1997, much of it handled by Media Passage," says Bob Spaulding, direct of media for Einstein. "When we're at full tilt, we're running schedules in 30 markets, about 60 or so newspapers, and having Media Passage handling it all is a tremendous advantage. "