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Local ads for personal injury lawyers may be pre-empted this fall as agency media buyers representing national accounts fill up the third quarter.

After a tumultuous second quarter, media buyers and local TV station executives say the traditionally quiet fall continues to grow in importance.

This year, even though there's no presidential election to shake up the upfront buying season, there are plenty of other distractions-from local radio activity to specific red-hot markets-to keep spot media buyers and planners busy.


A forecast from Katz Media Group predicts spot TV billings this year could top 1996's amount by 4%. According to Competitive Media Reporting, spending in the medium hit $14 billion last year, up 7.7% from 1995.

The forecast says the most influential spot category could be automotive, with Chrysler Corp.'s Dodge division, American Honda Motor Co., Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Sales USA, Audi of America, Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America and BMW of North America all expected to increase their spot buys.

And the growth of used-car superstores, such as AutoNation USA and CarMax, will play significant roles in their selected markets.

But changes in interest rates or sales performance can cause quick alterations in buying; dealer groups may leap in, since most vehicles are leased or financed with bank loans.


Indeed, many auto buys will be last-minute decisions, driven by car sales in the second quarter and availability when the quarter ends, says Scott Mayes, VP-general sales manager at WTXF-TV in Philadelphia.

Rising rates for TV time and a growing use of radio, cable and other media are complicating buying strategies. And rapidly changing fortunes for local stations, which have seen ratings fluctuate wildly, are playing havoc with rates and availability, says Karlyn Armstrong, local broadcast director for DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago.

"I've been doing this for 20 years and this year has really been frustrating," she says. "For the second quarter both radio and television were hotter than they've ever been, with sellout levels six and eight weeks in advance. So anyone going in with short lead time is paying premiums and station people say they have major availability problems."


Make-goods and schedule juggling have caused headaches for local buyers, although several say they expect credits to be used up in fall, when space is rarely tight. But that depends on particular markets, requiring more complex local analysis than ever, Ms. Armstrong notes.

"If you make a good buy, it's like a work of art, but then someone can come in and mess it up," she says. "People are always redoing and redoing."

Ads for telecommunications companies maintained their importance after years of AT&T Corp., MCI Communications Corp. and others waiting for regulatory rulings and new service additions. They've been joined by numerous auto and movie spots, say several buyers. And, though the third quarter is a lull before the holiday buying period, local radio stations, soft drink, beer and fast-food will be among the most visible marketers in spot.

Retail in Mr. Mayes' area has been up because of new chains coming to the area, including Kohl's Corp. and Target Stores doing promotional blitzes. But he says he's seen a "lemming mentality" when buyers focus on particular weeks in a calendar, causing scheduling difficulties in some weeks and deep discounts on open time in others.


"The first two weeks of July and September will be the real values. [Advertisers] are all thinking about the same week, and we go from feast to famine or vice versa," he says. "It seems that if we get into an oversell position, we're not alone; it happens at other stations here, too."

Sales of radio and TV stations have led to increasing use of radio to promote TV stations and vice versa. And regional strategies have narrowed further as hot markets, not just hot areas of the country, grab attention.

"A lot of advertisers are spending more this year and companies that haven't spent any money in local are going into it this year," says Pete Stassi, senior VP-director of local broadcast at BBDO Worldwide, New York. "Our clients see it as a positive year and they're not gun-shy anymore. The Southeast has been very strong as Miami, Jacksonville, Raleigh/Durham pick up speed. Seattle is going to go crazy because of Boeing hiring. But you have enough in the Midwest and Northeast that have been quiet that it all evens out."


A resurgence in local radio as a cost-effective alternative to TV has tempered some video enthusiasm in local markets, says Annette Mendola, director of local broadcast at media-buying service SFM Media, New York.

And younger audiences who can be found through less-expensive media, including radio, have added complications for media buyers, say industry observers.

This situation has created a greater need for communication between buying and planning groups.


"You can zero in on your market more so than you can with local TV, because radio has a specific appeal for particular social or age groups, with a lot less waste in ad dollars," Ms. Mendola adds. "One reason is that NBC and its local affiliates have created a tremendous demand for those stations because of their very high popularity. Particularly on Thursday nights, the lead-ins to local news have improved. [As a result,] rates are very high and that forces people into other choices."

And to blunt the cyclical effects of local media trends, Ms. Mendola says savvy advertisers have been "trying to meld a weak quarter with a strong quarter," buying flights that span both high- and low-price weeks. Joining the first and fourth quarters or the second and third quarters can be effective, depending on the product's season.

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