Even though the ad-sales climate has been a bit hazy for much of the past two years — clouded by a struggling economy and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — National Cable Communications has registered advances.
Much of the growth has stemmed from new-business efforts, as the national rep firm has ratcheted up its back-office capabilities, linked more markets via interconnect and aggressively sought out opportunities with new clients.
It's incumbent on vendors to expand efforts to forge new relationships in a time when every media opportunity is scrutinized for pricing and efficiency — and when national sales of both cable and broadcast have strengthened since last spring's upfront selling season.
Through the first nine months of this year, NCC's sales-development volume grew 38 percent, according to vice president of sales development and marketing Marc Bodner. The new-business department accounted for 10 percent of the rep's ad-sales pie.
That ratio is down from 15 percent of its total dollars in 2001, said NCC, the largest cable sales rep firm.
But Bodner attributed the dip to the sharp upturn in NCC's total volume, compared with the corresponding period in 2001. NCC recently reported that spot-cable sales rose 16 percent for the first nine months of this year, versus a 10 percent drop a year ago.
"We had a big overall jump in our top line, which grew exponentially" this year, largely because of a $30 million infusion from various political campaigns, Bodner said.
"We made some pretty good gains with the Democratic and Republican national committees," he added. "We were able to strike some chords with them, especially the Republicans."
Rainbow Advertising Sales Corp. last year phased out its representation of regional news networks and shifted focus to selling its own entities — parent Cablevision Systems Corp., News 12 Networks and the New York Interconnect. Thus, unlike NCC, RASCO's various offices now pitch prospects only from within the New York City DMA.
Hot — and not
RASCO has targeted retail, family-oriented restaurant chains, movies and the health-care category, said executive vice president of New York sales Michael Wach. The latter two categories were among the year's most successful in terms of new business, he said.
In 2003, RASCO's sales-development efforts will continue to concentrate on those segments, he added.
Last year, the travel and tourism sector and restaurants were among the strongest-spending categories in NCC's sales-development column, Bodner said, and both remain so this year. Key drivers over 2002's first nine months included Virgin Atlantic Airways, JetBlue Airways, Aruba Tourism, Pennsylvania Tourism and Vacation Express in the travel-and-tourism sector. Hooters, Quiznos, Rain Forest Café and Wolfgang Puck have been strong in the restaurant realm.
Other key contributors under NCC's sales-development heading have been financial-services clients Vanguard and Oppenheimer Funds; and Gorton's Seafood, Kellogg Co., M&M/Mars Inc. and Nestlé among packaged-goods marketers.
M&M/Mars, which bought spot-cable avails during last year's World Cup Soccer coverage on both ESPN and Galavisión, is now negotiating a 2003 package, Bodner disclosed.
Big Disney buy
NCC's decision to target movie studios, cell-phone providers and consumer-electronics retail chains have also resulted in new-sales successes .
"Our movie-studio efforts have paid off with Paramount [Pictures Corp.], Sony [Pictures Entertainment], Walt Disney Pictures and a bit from [Twentieth Century] Fox," Bodner noted.
To support its animated holiday-season theatrical release Treasure Planet, Disney made its first spot-cable buy across the top 16 markets in early November. The purchase included time on cable channels like Nickelodeon and its own networks, Toon Disney and ABC Family, plus the channels' Web sites, Bodner said.
The Disney studio promoted "Treasure Planet's Loot of a Thousand Winners Sweepstakes," whose grand prize was a trip for four aboard a Disney Cruise ship; another 999 winners attended a Nov. 23 preview screening of the film.
That buy, which concluded Nov. 15, involved Los Angeles interconnect Adlink as well as seven AT&T Broadband markets; four Time Warner Cable areas; three markets served by Comcast Corp.; and Cox Communications Inc. in Phoenix.
NCC also broke mobile phone providers Cingular Corp., U.S. Cellular and Verizon Communications Inc., national buys from Circuit City Inc. and some regional retailers, he added.
The rep firm also targeted home-improvement retailers, but Bodner said that category still prefers to buy network time.
The liquor and pharmaceutical categories also proved to be disappointments this year. Diageo — miffed at NBC's decision to break an agreement to air ads for the company's hard-liquor brands — made a lot of noise last summer about spending mega-bucks elsewhere in television and cable. Those plans didn't materialize into schedules, though, owing in large part to a downturn in popularity for liquor-styled "malternative" beverages, such as Smirnoff Ice.
As for pharmaceuticals, the sector has shown "a lot of activity — but not a whole lot of bookings," Bodner said. NCC picked up some test-marketing dollars for Botox and some allergy remedies early this year. Once those products went national, though, their media buyers opted for network time.
Promos catch fire
Like NCC, RASCO has used network sales promotions to good effect in luring new-to-cable business.
"We've been strong with that," Wach said, citing linkups with Discovery Networks, ESPN and Turner Broadcasting System Inc.
NCC director of promotions Lori Greenwood said, "This year, we've connected more than 50 advertisers with more than 20 cable networks, and introduced their promotional campaigns into over 110 markets."
That's a quantum leap from 1998, the first year when NCC offered such promo opportunities to its clientele. At that time, the rep firm had developed just two promotions.
Bodner and Greenwood both projected a 19 percent rate of spot-sales growth for the full year, adding that a quarter of that uptick is tied to such network promotions.
Top 100 gains
Suncom, a wireless provider that recently made its spot-cable debut, bought time in 19 small Southeastern markets, on such cable shows as MTV: Music Television's Total Request Live, Lifetime's Caring for Kids
and A&E Network's 15th anniversary Biography
The California Department of Food & Agriculture, which made its first spot-cable foray earlier this fall, ran its "Buy California" campaign in Fresno, Los Angeles, San Francisco and three other markets in the Golden State, using Food Network's Emeril Salutes America
series. The client tied into a related sweepstakes on foodtv.com.
Because of those efforts as well as other initiatives — ranging from consolidating markets to upgrading cable's back-room order-processing efforts — NCC has brought 90 of the top 100 national spot television ad spenders into the spot-cable fold, according to the rep firm's data.
In sharp contrast, only 25 percent of the top 100 spot TV advertisers ventured into spot cable five years ago.
When asked about the marketers still missing from spot cable, Bodner said, "A majority are packaged-goods companies, Procter & Gamble, Kraft, which tend to buy mass impressions at lower-than-market costs.
"Spot cable can't compete on that level," he added.