Sales still in store for TV

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Despite the estimated $1 billion sales decline in the recent network TV upfront, in-store TV network Premier Retail Networks is optimistic about its 2002 selling season beginning this month.

Already 40% ahead of last year's ad sales, PRN President Charlie Nooney expects the network's renewal rate-typically 90%-to continue. "This is a very big upfront for us," Mr. Nooney said. "In some ways this [ad market] plays very much to us," he added. "It forces people to think differently, and when people think differently, we win."

PRN enables advertisers such as American Express, DirecTV and Procter & Gamble Co. to reach 100 million shoppers a week in 5,000 retail outlets of Sears, Roebuck & Co., Best Buy, Circuit City, Footaction, Sam's Club and Wal-Mart. The Nielsen-measured network, on which advertisers can run traditional TV spots or store-specific ones, could benefit from the economic slowdown.

"Since we've started using [PRN], we have seen a definite increase in sales. It's been as high some months as a 300% increase," said Ed Valenzuela, senior manager, national accounts at DirecTV. "I think we get more bang for our buck doing the PRN deal," he said.

Andy Donchin, director, national broadcast at Aegis Group's Carat USA, New York, said PRN "may get a closer look this upfront. With the market being so soft, some people might have discretionary funds to look at opportunities like this," he said. "Advertisers are looking beyond just television, and to be at point of purchase is a benefit," Mr. Donchin added.

But Allen Banks, North American media director at Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, although unfamiliar with PRN, is skeptical about the company's reference to its August selling period as an upfront. "They could be trying to put things in the same perspective as regular TV," Mr. Banks said, "but to suggest that is the same caliber of network TV, in the sense that there is limited inventory that [PRN] is going to run out of, tends to exaggerate their own importance."

Marketers like Rayovac Corp. consider PRN part of their national ad strategy. "We treat it as traditional media," said Steve Shanesy, Rayovac's exec VP-global marketing director. "We don't look at it as trade advertising; we look at it as consumer advertising."

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