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The U.S. Postal Service will be the national sponsor of a PBS documentary that will provide key information to small and home businesses on how to compete more effectively.

The 30-minute program, "Taking Care of Business," will offer tips on marketing and direct response. The program will be satellite-fed to the 345 U.S. PBS affiliates and could air as early as November, but it's not known how many affiliates will telecast the program.

A 30-second corporate ID opens and closes the program. The exclusive national sponsorship fee is $85,000 for the half-hour PBS program and $130,000 for a one-hour documentary, said Bill Robinson, chief marketing strategist at ESI, a strategic marketing firm in Petaluma, Calif. ESI is the marketing partner for DocuVision, Santa Barbara, the TV production company producing the documentary. DocuVision and ESI are working with postal service agencies Young & Rubicam and Wunderman Cato Johnson, both New York.

Marketers are increasingly using an educational approach to marketing, Mr. Robinson said.

"The fundamental strategy is to first educate the viewer about an issue that is timely and complex and how they can benefit. The secondary objective is bring in marketing sponsors whose corporate objective ties in with the theme of the video and documentary," he said.

"Taking Care of Business' takes a look at what it takes today to stay competitive, to stay cutting edge," said Bob Acosta, DocuVision executive producer. The program will feature industry experts providing information, ideas and suggestions to small and home businesses about how to be more productive and how to market via direct mail.

Industry experts featured include Jonah Gitlitz, president, Direct Marketing Association; Lester Wunderman, chairman, Wunderman; Jim Spanfeller, publisher, Inc.; Earl Graves Sr., publisher, Black Enterprise; Jesus Chavarria, publisher, Hispanic Business; and Margaret Smith, president, National Association of Women Business Owners.

"Sponsors/underwriters understand we are not doing a commercial or a corporate video or an infomercial. Our objective is to provide education ....and we have editorial control," Mr. Acosta said.

Other national sponsors/underwriters of PBS documentaries through DocuVision and ESI include Cigna Corp., PaineWebber, Mail Boxes Etc. and Marriott International.

The documentary is a chance for the USPS to upgrade its image. "They want to create a superbrand of the postal service. A PBS show can break through and chip away at the negative perception" many have of the postal service, Mr. Robinson said.

"We thought this would be an efficient ad campaign as it relates to small business. Small businesses have been trying to reach their markets," said Marc B. Solnick, manager-advertising and promotions for the postal service.

Mr. Solnick said the video will be a fulfillment piece. "It is a guide on how to use direct mail," he said.

Some critics of the postal service's controversial, now on-hold "Neighborhood Mail" initiative charge that the PBS vehicle is one way the agency may try to generate customers for that plan. The USPS denied the program was tied in any way to neighborhood mail.

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