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The battle is getting fierce in the competitive media monitoring business.

Industry leader Competitive Media Reporting this month rolls out StrADegy, the first of a new generation of state-of-the-art electronic systems that will ultimately usher in an era of real-time media planning.

StrADegy doesn't yet have the kind of features that will enable advertisers to spy on what their competitors are doing, but a future generation and a competing system called Ad*Views, scheduled to be deployed by Nielsen Media Research in early 1996, will alert marketers and their agencies when a rival alters its ad schedule, or rolls out a new product or campaign.

Initially, StrADegy marks a quantum leap in the ability to access and manipulate competitive ad spending data across the 14 media categories that CMR measures.

And if linked to another product-the expensive, highly customized Ad Detector-StrADegy can track real-time ad changes as they occur. Because of its expense, only a few of the biggest advertisers in the most competitive categories, such as long-distance giant AT&T, subscribe to Ad Detector.

CMR eventually plans to integrate StrADegy with so-called "sensors." Those software applications will allow users to ask CMR's database to automatically alert them when certain events occur, such as fluctuations in a competitor's media spending, introductions of new products or campaigns, or expansion into new markets. The application should greatly reduce the cost of such spying systems.

Although StrADegy is more affordable than the highly customized Ad Detector, CMR hopes the new features will expand its revenue base by encouraging clients who now subscribe to one or a few of its media databases to sign up for its entire multimedia platform.

Likewise, Nielsen executives believe similar features in their Ad*Views system will enable Nielsen to carve out a long sought after share of the competitive media data business, something the company had failed to do until earlier this year, when True North Communications' TN Media agreed to become its first ad agency client.

That agreement has sparked a serious rift between CMR and TN Media, which is still under a service contract to CMR, but plans to let it lapse by early next year when the Nielsen system is deployed.

CMR Exec VP Joe Philport acknowledged that the issue of "brand media harmonization," the ability to link CMR's disparate media databases, has been the biggest problem to dog the company and is what has slowed down the deployment of StrADegy.

What ultimately will make both companies' systems a vast improvement over previous databases is that they're both based on a client-server computer technology that enables the user to directly access each company's database and get new data as they're refreshed.

"That's a big improvement over how we got our data in the past," said Michelle Buslik, senior VP-director of media research of Wells Rich Greene BDDP, New York. In the past "it took at least several days to do what we can now do in minutes."

As a result, "StrADegy can offer us more time for interpretation and less time for numbers crunching," said Ed Coosaia, VP-media research director of D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

WRG and DMB&B are two of four agencies that CMR says are subscribing to StrADegy. However, both Ms. Buslik and Mr. Coosaia said they're continuing to beta test StrADegy as an adjunct to their previous CMR contracts.

Still, Ms. Buslik believes the current version of StrADegy represents a great leap forward: "It's not a complete system, but I have StrADegy here in my office now, and it's doing what it's supposed to do at this stage."

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