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Despite some controversy last year surrounding the Association of National Advertisers having media companies as a formal part of the program at its annual conference, this year's meeting will follow the same format.

The general sessions will have one day sponsored by ESPN and a second co-sponsored by Hearst Magazines, Time Inc. and Reader's Digest Association. ANA plans to add one more media sponsor for the meeting, scheduled for Naples, Fla., Oct. 8 to 12.

In Laguna Niguel, Calif., last October, the group had the broadcast TV networks sponsor full-day general sessions for a reported $100,000-per-day fee. That drew fire from print media executives, who felt left out, and from some attendees, who complained that the meeting's content amount to little more than sales pitches.


ANA President-CEO John Sarsen, however, said reaction to last year's conference was overwhelmingly positive, prompting a similar format this year. Added John Costello, senior exec VP-marketing at Sears, Roebuck & Co. and, as vice chairman of ANA, program chairman for the '98 event: "Last year's conference was highly rated by members, and we want to build off last year's high ratings."

One of the more vocal detractors last year was Hearst Magazines President Cathleen Black, who said at the time, "If you look at the program, no one would imagine print exists."

Rather than sponsor an entire day this year, Hearst is hoping to focus attention on the benefits of print by inviting Time Inc. and Reader's Digest Association to help in planning of that day's general sessions. The three companies will split the fee-said to be not more than $100,000-in thirds. The plan is to create a program that focuses on print advertising issues rather than one company over another, using panels and presentations.


Outside of the general session, other media sponsors planning a presence at the conference include The New York Times, Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, said Mr. Sarsen.

The overall theme of the ANA meeting is "Brand champions: Connecting with the new consumer." Scheduled speakers so far include Kraft Foods CEO Robert Eckert, America Online President Robert Pittman and Bell Atlantic Corp. Chairman Ray Smith.

Even for a price tag of $100,000, an ANA sponsorship may be a bargain. Hearst, ESPN and the others are getting exposure to senior executives who control, in aggregate, $100 billion in marketing spending annually.


"Media companies have experience building their own brands, and those experiences can prove beneficial for ANA members," said Andy Cooper, communications director of the ANA.

Mr. Costello, who takes the chairman's reins at the October meeting, seemed to indicate that, barring any objections from ANA's members, media-sponsored programs will continue in the future.

"The media world is rapidly changing and it is our goal to provide our members with exposure to all the changes in the media. Given the complexity [of the media landscape] that may take several years to accomplish."

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