Papers' ad group goes on offensive

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The Newspaper National Network, which aggregates over a thousand dailies for advertisers, is approaching marketers with the opportunity to place ads in specific sections, such as sports or business.

The move marks a major change for how newspapers sell national ads. Traditionally-and newspapers are a very tradition-minded business-newspapers have not sold run-of-press ads with sectional placement like the NNN buy offers. The NNN has already discussed a sports-section buy with advertisers, and business- and home-section buys are on the way.

"Historically, newspapers have unintentionally predominately marketed their main news section," said Jason E. Klein, NNN president-CEO. "And the reality is that's been the way most people have thought about the paper." The NNN initiative, he said, was sparked by seeing newspapers "as a collection of vertical titles."

The move is a bid to boost newspapers' share of national-marketing budgets, which has long been a pet project of the industry. In 2002-the latest year for which numbers are available-national advertising in newspapers totaled $7.2 billion, according to the Newspaper Association of America (which is general partner of NNN and owns a stake in it), and boasted the biggest growth rate of the three major newspaper ad categories. But it's also the smallest of those categories, which include retail and classified, accounting for about 16% of newspapers' ad revenue.

Mr. Klein, who formerly ran Times Mirror Magazines, said the initiative targets magazines and cable TV.

target markets

"It's one of the first times an industry-wide organization ... has proposed and established a mechanism for selling advertising in this kind of non-traditional way," said Shaun Higgins, director-sales and marketing for the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman Review, which, like virtually all midtier dailies, has participated in NNN's networked buys.

The NNN places ads in virtually all of the nation's most prominent dailies, save for The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, which were selling themselves as national ad vehicles long before the NNN came into being.

The buys will have a list of target markets for a set price and the potential for add-ons, Mr. Klein said. He said target markets would be determined by, for example, the percentage of top executives for the business buy, as determined by MRI and Scarbourough Research data. (Few local dailies, unsurprisingly, can invest in such research regularly.) Mr. Klein would not divulge pricing or network data, but said buys could encompass as few as 10 dailies and as many as several hundred.

The moves won some kudos from a print buyer, though the buyer's response reflected frustrations with dealing with newspapers. "It shows a decent amount of flexibility," said Eric Blankfein, VP-director of media planning at Horizon Media, News York. "As a planner, you're conditioned to expect very inflexible placement when you talk about newspapers."

Mr. Klein said the NNN would begin selling its business buy by March 1, and that the sports buy would involve "affinity" programs with major sports leagues.

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