UPFRONT MANEUVERS SHOW SELLERS HOLD THE POWER

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They'll buy anything! The biggest advertisers line up to take whatever the networks are willing to sell them for the new broadcast year. You call that clout? Whatever happened to negotiations, options and alternatives? Is a major portion of our industry simply going to put 12% to 15% increases on the table for next year's network television media buys and, in an act of irony, pressure the networks to take their dollars early in case the costs rise even higher?

This may be the year that exposes the lie to one of our industry's biggest myths-that the biggest advertisers and biggest media buyers have some sort of clout that guarantees them the best media buys. In fact, what this marketplace is showing us, as it emerges, is an industry dominated totally by the sellers-the networks themselves, who are toying with the buying community, coyly questioning the need for early buys yet making them available to those buyers who want them.

How considerate! The networks are simply letting the early panicked buyers set a high inflation rate as a base to build on when selling to other advertisers.

Clout? This lemminglike behavior in which the networks, and not the big advertisers or big agency buyers, control the marketplace is not new. What is new, perhaps, is that the current generation of corporate top management may not be aware of just how out of control this major portion of their largest controllable expense may be.

What can a prudent advertiser do? It may well be that the smartest thing to do is to get in early and make one's media buys before the "feeding frenzy" of other advertisers raises rates and captures the bulk of the best programming and ad positions. This certainly is better than just sitting back and having the market wash over you.

But there are other options that can be explored, to reduce or even eliminate major media cost increases in the coming year. Cable, while increasingly more expensive, is still often more efficient than the broadcast networks, especially when targeting upscale or younger prospects. Spot television has not begun to register the inflationary pressures demonstrated by national media and offers the chance to truly zero in on key opportunity areas. Magazines, newspapers and outdoor offer other considerations.

The key is not to simply accept the conventional wisdom that network television, no matter what the cost, is the panacea for all your advertising challenges. In fact the only thing that is certain is that for an agency, network television is one of the most profitable media an agency can recommend.

Let the buyer beware!

Mr. DeWitt is president of DeWitt Media, New York, and a former media director of McCann-Erickson and BBDO.

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