Agency Asks Stations for Better Picture of Local Markets

All politics is local, House Speaker Tip O’Neill once famously decreed. But these days, most advertising is national.

Local advertising remains important, but the media planners who determine where ad dollars will be spent have little time to look up the facts and figures about what’s going on in the 210 local TV markets in the U.S., let alone visit them.

As a remedy to this situation, one media agency is going to the videotape. Over the summer, MediaVest, part of Publicis’ ViviKi, sent a request to 800-plus commercial TV stations seeking a videotape that would provide insights about what’s going on in their market. The agency collected 350 tapes that now form a library to give its staffers and clients unique insights into the economy and culture in big cities and small towns.

The videos are an impactful way of imparting the information. “What we really wanted to do was give them some visual capability of getting all the facts about a market quickly, as opposed to having to look through reams of data and books,” says Maribeth Papuga, executive VP, director of local investment and activation at MediaVest.

Papuga went to TV stations because they know their markets well and they were the source most capable of putting such videos together. She sent letters to all the stations and followed up with a push at some of the major station groups.

Once they understood the project, most stations were “really excited,” Papuga says, “especially in the smaller markets, because they felt like they are always overlooked.”

The stations were told that “the target audience for these tapes is not a buyer, it’s not someone who knows your market,” Papuga says. “It’s the clients or a planner, and generally speaking, most planners are 27 years old today and haven’t gone beyond the market they’re living in.”

Local advertising has lately been losing share to national advertising, which is less expensive on costper- thousand-viewers basis. According to Barclays Capital, national advertising will have a 37.8% share of the $173 billion in U.S. advertising market in 2011, for the first time topping local spending, which will account for 37.6%, with direct marketing accounting for 24.6%. National advertising’s lead over local is expected to grow to 4.4 percentage points in 2013, Barclays adds.

Will the video library suddenly mean that MediaVest clients will be buying more local media? “Local has gotten the short end of the stick because we haven’t really done a good job at educating people about what is in these markets, what they’re thinking, what they might be faced with,” Papuga says. But even with this library in place, “we’re not assuming that plans are going to necessarily shift from national to local.”

But Papuga says there are many occasions when clients will ask the agency why its sales are lower in a particular part of the country. “It’s meant to help answer a lot of those questions and formulate new thinking,” she says. “It’s a great tool for anyone who really hasn’t thought about what local in the U.S. really means.”

The project may be video, but it’s not designed to favor TV. “I’m sort of agnostic—I want the money local, whether it’s local cable, local radio, local newspaper,” Papuga says.

As for the tapes themselves, “some are slick, and we have some that are very simple,” she adds.

KSBW in Monterey/Salinas, Calif., submitted a tape in which station general manager Joe Heston talks about the market, which features the top vegetablegrowing region in the U.S. as well as the Pebble Beach Golf course, along with KSBW itself, the No. 1 station in the market for the past 57 years.

In WBBM Chicago’s tape, Bill Kurtis and other Channel 2 news anchors talk about the Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the Windy City, its diverse and educated citizenry and its distinct neighborhoods. There’s even a sound bite from new mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“In return for being able to put some CBS branding and personalities in it, we put some effort into it, and I think it helped the agency and it may help us and it should help the market in general,” says Bruno Cohen, general manager of WBBM.

Cohen notes that many media planners and buyers sit in the same office every day, working with numbers. “I thought this was an interesting way to get them virtually out of their offices and understand another marketplace in a way that was going to be important to the clients that they represent.”

Now that the tapes are in-house, Papuga is beginning to send selected tapes from a number of markets to agency staffers. “We thought right now was an appropriate time because of the new census data that came out as well,” she says.

Eventually, Papuga hopes to index the tapes so that planners can easily find markets where there is a large college population, new industry moving in or a growing group of senior citizens.

The agency will continue to reach out to local markets, getting information from radio stations as well as TV stations.

“We really envision that the entire 800 people-plus in our organization will have some familiarity with local markets and what the differences are across the country,” Papuga says.

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Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.