ADVERTISERS GIVE A BOOST TO AIRPORT

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Denver International Airport opened for business last week amid a continuing chill of controversy, not to mention winter weather.

DIA had plenty of public relations and media coverage for the Feb. 28 opening. More than 1,700 reporters converged on the facility. But the airport itself took a cautious approach about trumpeting its debut with advertising.

The city of Denver planned no advertising to spotlight the opening. Diane Koller, DIA deputy director of aviation for marketing and government affairs, said delays in opening the facility have led to budget constraints that prevented advertising. She said DIA would rather wait to advertise until it has an established track record.

The airport has been a decade and $4.9 billion in the making. Problems with its baggage system have pushed back the opening four times, from its original date of October 1993. DIA opened last week using a backup baggage system, plus the erratic high-tech version.

Still ongoing are federal investigations of DIA's financing, allegations of faulty construction and questions about its safety systems.

But the airport still has plenty to awe air travelers. With its dramatic multi-peaked roof and $7.5 million worth of art, DIA is attracting big marketers to advertise in the 5.45 million-square-foot facility.

Sales have been "very, very, very good," said Jim Riley, president of Chicago-based Transportation Media Inc., which is handling those efforts. But TMI actually had sold more ads when the airport was first slated to open. "It was a tougher sell the second time around," Mr. Riley admitted. The top advertisers at DIA are AT&T, Coors Brewing Co. and Diners Club.

TMI offers four sizes of airport ads. Its "spectacular" ads measure 7 by 11 feet and sell for an average of $4,000 per month, Mr. Riley said. An advertiser generally must buy at least 14 ad spaces in the airport.

Philip Morris Cos.' Benson & Hedges cigarettes will have a strong presence at DIA as the sponsor of two Aviator's Club smoking lounges. The lounges are the only public smoking areas within the terminal complex.

DIA has also inspired a marketing effort by a Denver suburb. Aurora is planning a $250,000, five-year campaign to draw out-of-state businesses to 2,800 acres of developed land the suburb controls near DIA. Servoss Public Relations and Marketing, Denver, is working on the marketing effort.

BAE Automated Systems, builder of the beleaguered baggage system, has been trying to redeem its reputation through a series of tongue-in-cheek ads in Denver newspapers. The advertising was handled through PR agency JohnstonWells Group. The latest ad shows unscathed suitcases with the headline, "The first returns are in."

Despite the warm glow from the ad community, Colorado's weather played a role in DIA's opening. The first passenger plane into the airport couldn't unload its passengers, including many reporters, because a frozen jetway wouldn't budge. The plane had to be moved to another gate.

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