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SPINdex often waxes nostalgic about the days of smoke-filled newsrooms, but exactly what are the leading news media smoking these days? SPINdex thinks it must be something mind-altering. Why else would they devote so much attention to a political spot that hardly even aired on TV?

Coverage of the Dole-Kemp campaign spot featuring Bill Clinton's comments about smoking marijuana received more media impressions than any other marketing-related story during the two-week period leading up to this column.

The SPINdex sample of influential news media devoted 111 electronic and print stories and 103,984 words of copy to a spot that the Dole team sheepishly acknowledges was backed with only a minuscule Washington-area cable buy.

The spot, with its SPINdex of 1,361, attracted exponentially more free TV time than it was ever budgeted to buy.

What the Dole team perpetrated was nothing more than a carefully timed, well-executed public relations ploy. And they did it by using SPINdex's favorite tactic: create a controversial commercial bound to elicit national media-particularly TV-attention. Then air it with a tiny media buy or, better yet, get it rejected from network standards and practices departments, and you're sure to get a big free media bang.

National media have been getting increasingly sophisticated about this technique, and it is getting ever more difficult to pull off, but they fell right into the Dole effort, because they weren't used to seeing it in the political arena.

Some of the most powerful coverage, including a New York Times piece, was devoted specifically to the manipulative nature of this tactic. But the Times was doing just what the TV media that aired the spot in the first place did-covering a political media event.

Placing second with a SPINdex of 522 and a more conventional marketing strategy was AT&T Corp.'s One Rate calling plan. Ross Perot's complaints about access to network ad time generated him more media impressions than the buys may have and earned him a SPINdex of 394.

McDonald's Corp. ranked fourth with a SPINdex of 185 for the extension of its Arch Deluxe line. And the resignation of Ben & Jerry's CEO Robert Holland earned fifth place with a 164.M

Joe Mandese is senior VP of Myers Reports. Mark Weiner is VP of Medialink Research.

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