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Tie-in promotions linking two or more brands for marketing programs are on the rise, and so is the business of brand matchmaking.

Operating like dating services for brands, tie-in specialists are increasingly playing key roles in coordinating co-op promotions for brand marketers.

And as competition heats up among tie-in specialists, new types of relationships and promotional channels are emerging.

The most popular vehicles for co-op promotions remain joint newspaper free standing inserts, which allow two marketers to split the cost of an FSI while reaching new audiences.

But a host of new avenues for co-op promotions are opening upas competition among tie-in specialists grows. Among them, insiders say, are electronic and interactive media that are being explored as new channels for joint promotions within the next few years.

Other new arenas for tie-in promotions include peel-off labels on products providing cross-marketing messages and coupons from other marketers, as well as on-pack and in-pack product sampling.

On-pack coupon booklets containing promotional messages for as many as a dozen different products are soaring in popularity, particularly among marketers of cigarettes, beer and soft drinks seeking maximum brand exposure for minimal media costs.

Meanwhile, tie-in shops are developing highly sophisticated computer-driven databases that constantly identify and track tie-in prospects for thousands of marketers' brands.

As a result, sales promotion agencies and advertising powerhouses including Chicago's Frankel & Co. and Leo Burnett USA are increasingly relying on such tie-in specialists to hunt down co-op marketing prospects.

Key players include Manhattan-based Deare Marketing; Co-op Promotions, Miami; and Co-Options, Stamford, Conn.

"It takes a long time to develop the database you need to know all the brands that might fit a particular joint promotion, and people who specialize in tie-ins can do it faster and better than any ad agency these days," said a Leo Burnett account manager.

Burnett has recently relied on both Deare and Co-options to coordinate joint marketing programs for client Philip Morris Cos. The ad agency is also talking to other tie-in specialists as well as working directly with other agencies' clients for tie-in promotions.

Insiders say tie-in agencies are now moving to create long-term relationships with marketers, as well as creating new co-op promotion channels.

"I'm seeing more tie-in opportunities this year than ever before, and ideas for tie-ins are coming from more directions. The field is really opening up," said Daiquiri Sartor, a product manager for Alberto-Culver Co., which relies heavily on in-pack and on-pack tie-ins and joint newspaper FSIs to market its Molly McButter and Mrs. Dash food flavoring products.

Deare recently forged a long-term relationship with Warner Bros. to coordinate tie-ins to its films and is seeking other long-term agreements, said Jennifer Deare, the agency's president.

Tie-in shop Co-Options is also lining up long-term tie-in marketing agreements with clients and this month inked a strategic alliance with on-pack label manufacturer Mid America, Neenah, Wis., to coordinate joint promotions for the company. Mid America, a division of packaging manufacturer Menasha Corp., is the nation's No. 1 maker of on-pack, peel-off promotional labels, rapidly gaining favor among major marketers.

"We're getting all kinds of requests from marketers interested in joint on-pack promotions, and we decided to pair up with a tie-in agency to coordinate the various opportunities emerging," said John Parsons, product manager of Mid America's Booklet/Plus.

The company's on-pack coupons, consisting of multipage booklets attached directly to products and point-of-purchase displays, are ideal for cross-promotions involving a dozen or more marketers, and are Mid America's fastest growing new product, Mr. Parsons said. Mid America's clients include Kraft General Foods and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

Co-op Promotions is also doing a booming business in coordinating marketers to participate in coupon booklets containing offers for up to 20 different products. Such booklets are usually anchored by one marketer and are offered on-pack or at the point of purchase.

A recent booklet developed by Co-op Promotions brought 11 marketers of barbecue-related products together in Anheuser-Busch's "Bud BBQ Bonus Book" of coupons, available at the point of purchase. The promotion was conceived and designed by sales promotion agency Waylon Co., St. Louis.

A major holiday-theme promotion will be launched next month by Target Stores, when the discounter will give away thousands of product samples and coupons to shoppers receiving its first-ever Holiday Survival Bag. The samples will be given free to the first 1,000 shoppers arriving at each of Target's 625 stores on the day after Thanksgiving, the biggest shopping day of the year. The promotion was the brainchild of Frankel, Target's sales promotion agency.

Despite growing competition among tie-in agencies, there's tremendous untapped potential in the field, said Co-op Promotions President Art Averbook.

"The latest tie-in methods are still new to many marketers, and competition from other tie-in specialists is actually good for my business, because marketers have a lot to learn about joint promotions," said Mr. Averbook, who launched his tie-in operation employing 10 full-time staffers a decade ago.

Mr. Averbook is aggressively seeking new business and recently began publishing a list of upcoming joint marketing opportunities alerting as many as 1,500 brand marketers to events he has planned.

Ms. Deare is less sanguine about new competition in the tie-in field.

"Lots of agencies seem to think they can just leap into tie-ins and throw together a database that will let them connect the best brands for the best events, but they're wrong," she said, and predicted that within two years there will be "massive shakeouts" among as many as a dozen new players in the tie-in field, leaving just a few specialists.

Co-Options, which began specializing in tie-ins three years ago, believes growth lies in building strategic relationships and creating new promotional channels.

"We want to be matchmakers for brands, but we don't want these to be flings," said Brian Sockin, Co-Options president. "Our goal is to build long-term relationships that last at least a few years, giving brands maximum benefit from connections with other marketers and brands."

Kate Fitzgerald coordinates Promotion Marketing News. Reach us by fax at (312) 649-5331 or e-mail address [email protected]

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