Although the ad pie is shrinking, the beat has never been more competitive. The New York Times' 60-year-old Advertising column remains a dominant force, but The Wall Street Journal is making a renewed run at the paper of record, while relative newcomer USA Today is sharply increasing its coverage of advertising, marketing and media.
The Wall Street Journal began pursuing marketing and advertising coverage when the paper went to three sections in 1989; USA Today has been beefing up its coverage for the last year with a trio of senior industry reporters and a new ad column.
But the Journal's commitment to its daily ad column has been unclear since columnist Kevin Goldman landed a book contract and left last fall. The column has been penned by various writers since then, and Mr. Goldman's eventual successor, Sally Goll Beatty, was shipped in from the Journal's Hong Kong office with little background in advertising or U.S. pop culture.
Amid that uncertainty, top editors and reporters at the Journal huddled on March 1 to develop a new game plan. The presence at the meeting of Managing Editor Paul Steiger, former ad columnist Joanne Lipman, now a Page 1 editor, and Kathleen Deveny, a front page editor for the paper's
"Marketplace" section, seemed to underscore the push for more high-profile marketing stories.
Mr. Steiger insisted the meeting was "little more than a story meeting. It wasn't a case of the column is broke, let's fix it." When pressed, however, he concedes, "I guess I would like to see more of the stories out front."
Going forward, the column will rely on several writers, including Ms. Goll Beatty, expected to pen two to three columns each week. Publishing-beat reporter Patrick Reilly will contribute at least one column per week, while Bruce Knecht, who most recently covered banking, joins the Marketing & Media staff as a second publishing-beat reporter.
"I don't think either the Times or USA Today is producing any competition that we can't meet," said Laura Landro, senior editor responsible for Media & Marketing, who said Ms. Goll Beatty is still the primary ad columnist.
"I think our column is superior; we have not had an ebb-and-flow in how we view the column. It is one of our core areas," said Times Business-Finance Editor John Geddes, who plans no changes.
SLOW BUT SURE
On the ad front, the Journal seems to be making slow but measurable progress. Last year, it carried just 29 pages of media advertising on the ad column page, but that represents a 61% gain from the 18 media pages it carried in 1994, according to Space Analysis Systems. Revenue from media companies on the column page grew to $1.6 million, up 73% from the previous year.
The Times still dominates in ad dollars and pages, albeit at a greatly scaled back rate compared to the 1980s. Media ad pages on the column page in the paper declined 11% last year to 128.5, while revenues dropped 9% to $6.86 million.
The Times' Stuart Elliott has emerged for now as the dean of the beat as he closes in on his fifth anniversary in May.
"They are all different beasts, but right now I'd have to give Stuart Elliott high marks as the definitive ad columnist," said Donny Deutsch, CEO at Deutsch, New York. "He's closer to the epicenter. Sally Goll Beatty will take time to find her way while the tries to cast a wider net. USA Today has some real hustlers and, given their readership, they're coming at it from the most general point of view."
AIMING FOR THE CONSUMER
Trying to find its own niche, USA Today eschews the industry-insider approach to aim its coverage at the consumer. That has helped it leap beyond the traditional media advertisers and attract non-endemic ones to its marketing pages, including McDonald's Corp. and Toyota Motor Sales USA.
The paper's three main marketing reporters, Dottie Enrico, Bruce Horovitz and Melanie Wells, rotate on the Monday morning On Madison Avenue column and handle spot news as it develops. It's too early to tally results on the ad front.
Business Week Publisher David Ferm was running a Friday ad adjacent to the Times column through '94 but dropped it in '95.
Rather than a quarter-page ad every week, he'll run a page ad on an occassional basis.
"To me, the adjacency to the column has lost a lot of its positioning impact," Mr. Ferm said.