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For almost 10 years, a mound of paperwork and a number of annoying technicalities have led national advertisers to eschew the newspaper industry.

Now newspapers appear poised to give other media a run for their money.

Newspaper Association of America last year established its Newspaper National Network as a limited partnership to facilitate newspaper buys with a one order/one bill program.

So far, the young effort is running ahead of sales expectations, but still receiving mixed reviews from both the newspaper industry and the media-buying community.

The program is intended to bring in more national advertisers who want to make a multiple-paper buy.

In the past, national advertisers buying 150 newspapers would receive as many as 150 pieces of paper using 150 different accounting methods. And, ad agency media buyers would grouse, about half of them failed to indicate the client for whom the ad was produced.

"The back offices of newspapers are slightly behind the U.S. Postal Service in degree of bureaucracy, efficiency and service," says David Verklin, general manager of Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco.

Under the program started last year, NNN promotes national newspaper buys through a series of presentations to agency media buyers and advertisers in major markets.

So far, the group has made sales presentations in New York and Detroit, and next will target Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Minneapolis.

Part of its pitch is to position newspapers as an added-value marketing opportunity at the local level, in conjunction with event marketing, in-store promotions, online services and sampling.

To supplement the personal part of the marketing push, NNN is running a $6 million advertising campaign in 170 daily papers tagged, "If you run it in the newspaper, they'll read it." Ahern Needleman Fleizach, New York, created the campaign.

"We have to create demand," says Patricia Haegele, NNN VP-general manager.

NNN also develops proposals for network buys and presents one bill for the package to the advertiser.

The NNN is targeting six categories of marketers spending $32 billion annually in media; currently only 2% of that is spent on newspapers.

The six low-use categories are automotive, beverages, cosmetics, household supplies, package goods/food and toiletries.

Because the industry effort could have restraint of trade implications, the U.S. Department of Justice had to approve the categories targeted.

The NNN effort is financed by 50 of the largest circulation newspapers, each contributing based on circulation. Any newspaper, however, can receive advertising from buys on the network.

So far, 527 newspapers, including 505 dailies with circulation of about 40 million daily and 50 million Sunday, are participating.

In a little over six months, NNN has developed 50 proposals with a total media value of $120 million. The efforts-as of the end of the first quarter-have yielded $10 million in ads for 185 newspapers from new advertisers in the automotive category, Ford Motor Corp. and Chrysler Corp., and the beverage category, Adolph Coors Co.

In another category, the newly christened Bayer used a buy in 38 local newspapers in 30 markets with a total circulation of 11 million to announce its recent name change from Miles Laboratories. The ad ran in March and April in all 30 markets, and will run a third time in some of those markets. Foote Cone & Belding, Chicago, handles Bayer.

In addition, S.C. Johnson & Son's Raid brand made an extensive buy of the New York market for a product recall. The buy included 50 newspapers with a total circulation of 5 million.

FCB also handles Raid.

Another 20 proposals worth $50 million in ad sales are pending, says Ms. Haegele.

One of the reasons for NNN's success, says Ms. Haegele, is its ability to price media on a cost-per-thousand basis. The result is less of a differential between national and local rates, long a complaint among national advertisers.

So far, newspaper subscribers to NNN are cautiously optimistic about the results.

"Our expectations were a little bigger than reality so far," says Steve Falk, senior VP-sales and marketing, San Francisco Newspaper Agency, which handles business operations for the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner.

Mr. Falk says, however, that the dues his newspapers have paid NNN have been offset "by a significant amount" from advertising in the Ford and Chrysler programs that NNN arranged.

Still, "We had hoped there would be more advertising from pharmaceuticals and drug companies and package goods," he adds.

So the San Francisco Newspaper Agency is taking a wait-and-see attitude about NNN.

"It will be at least another two years before we sit back and make some decisions," Mr. Falk says.

Some agency media specialists are far from optimistic about the probable success of NNN's efforts.

"It's somewhat up in the air," says one top agency executive who asked not to be identified.

NNN is facing "a monumental task that cannot be achieved overnight," says Anne Parr, chairman of the newspaper committee of the American Association of Advertising Agencies and a media supervisor at Leo Burnett USA, Chicago.

"Some of this is going to take time. I think they realize that," she says.

Other solutions for the industry's billing departments and bookkeeping problems also are in the works.

Ampersand, a new-media unit of Editor & Publisher Co., is testing an online system that provides agency media planners with newspaper market circulation and rate data, composes a media plan and places insertion orders in 1,600 dailies.

The system should be fully operational by summer.

Meanwhile, the NNN remains confident about the program.

According to Nancy Weber Culver, marketing director, NNN in September had hoped to achieve $20 million in sales for all of 1995 but by the end of the first quarter of '95, sales had already achieved half that.

"It shows the acceptance of our program and our ability to deliver," says Ms. Culver.

"We're running ahead," adds Ms. Haegele.

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