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Giving It the Old College Try

While education has long been a steady source of advertising for local television, several general managers say the bleak economic picture has made for a serious spike in trade schools advertising on their air. As companies downsize and people are forced to rethink career choices, many are broadening their skill sets at the local nursing, dental-tech or paralegal school.

“It's definitely a sign of the times,” says KXAN Austin President/General Manager Eric Lassberg, who reports a double-digit gain in the category in the first quarter compared to the same quarter a year before. “Those schools do well in a recession, so it makes sense to get aggressive in this category.”

It's no secret that traditionally monstrous ad categories like automotive and financial services continue to withdraw their marketing dollars. A study by the Television Bureau of Advertising (TVB) showed a 29% drop in automotive advertising on local TV in the fourth quarter of 2008 compared to the same quarter a year before, with the car dealers themselves spending 33% less.

Make the most of local revenue

The consolidation and collapse of financial institutions, meanwhile, has severely hampered ad spending, too. As a result, station sales departments are pushing hard to make the most of other categories—particularly those located in their markets. Many general managers report that fast-food restaurants are increasingly playing up those dollar menus on television, and telecom is strong as well as cable steps up its triple-play campaigns and battles with newer pay-TV services for subscribers.

But in many markets, it's the trade schools that are showing the biggest growth. (The TVB and TNS Media Intelligence had the overall education segment as its No. 10 advertising category in 2008.) Managers say they seem to fit best on Fox stations or similarly young-skewing affiliates of MyNetworkTV and The CW. The colleges tend to avoid soap operas, which makes Fox a logical fit, and seem to find their best return on investment from court shows and some talk shows.

Andy Delaporte, general sales manager at Meredith's Portland, Ore., duopoly KPTV-KPDX, says education has climbed into the top five categories in the first quarter, with an 8% jump in spending at the station over the previous first quarter. With Oregon's unemployment rate among the nation's worst, spots for Western Culinary Institute and Apollo College seem to play well on the Fox and MyNetworkTV stations in the market. “It's been a very important category for some time,” Delaporte says, “but it's a real growth category in the more challenging economic times.”

Over the last year, Fox's WJBK Detroit has seen a 20% increase in educational advertising, which VP/General Manager Jeff Murri says is a clear-cut “reflection of the reality of the times—people are looking to retrain themselves and re-enter the workforce with new skills.”

Viewers in Phoenix may see any one of 15 to 20 such schools promoting their services at any given time on the Fox-owned KSAZ-KUTP duopoly. They include institutions teaching filmmaking, X-ray technique and auto mechanics; in steamy Phoenix, refrigeration is a popular field too.

VP/General Manager Pat Nevin says the category is among the top 10 at KUTP, a MyNetworkTV affiliate, and should continue to grow. “There are still a number of trade schools in the market that are not using television,” he says, mentioning a nursing school he recently saw on a billboard. “We're making sure we're getting our fair share with existing clients, while continually prospecting for new ones.”

Ads match content

Station managers say the trade-school ads are often a good complement to recession-related reporting on their air. As America continues to struggle with high unemployment, stations are increasing the number of stories offering job interview tips and pointers on shifting careers in their newscasts. “Those are big news stories that we do,” says KRQE-KASA Albuquerque President/General Manager Bill Anderson, who offers a prominent “Economy & Resources” section on the LIN duopoly's site. “People are retraining after being laid off, or simply want to broaden their employment potential.”

While the recession will presumably come to an end at some point in the future, several general managers say they expect the education category to stay strong even after unemployment levels fall back to Earth and people return to more typical spending habits. With the tuition at traditional four-year colleges continuing to escalate, they predict the less expensive trade schools will continue signing up students—and reaching out to them through local television.

“I think this is going to be an active category for years to come,” says KSAZ's Nevin. “I think these trade schools have found a niche.”

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