Scandal tightens cash from the Hill

Radio stations play musical chairs, TV avails tighter, Sun adds new lifestyle sections

With ‘The Man’ playing a role in about 30% of the business that happens in Ottawa, it would be expected that the sponsorship scandal would be a disruptive influence in the city. As Vector Media managing partner/media director Veronica Engelberts observes, ‘there is a lot of confusion in terms of who’s spending and who can spend. Some government organizations can spend, but it is by special dispensation that they have to get permission to do so.’

That on-again-off-again approach to cutting cheques doesn’t help a local economy still recovering from the tech downturn of two years ago. Gone are the recruitment ads and the brand-building efforts that characterized that market, and gone is the trickle-down spending that came with a booming tech sector (such as retail).

And clients have taken note. ‘There’s lots of short-term planning,’ says Engelberts, ‘and reluctance on the part of advertisers to do any long-term planning or make commitments.’

But Engelberts and others do see a recovery happening. Ottawa still boasts a strong tech backbone, it has a new international airport and thriving sports franchises. It’s even the host for the Grey Cup this year.

Radio

With apologies to OutKast, the arrival of Hot 89.9 last February has shaken Ottawa like a Polaroid picture. The young/hip/urban station sounded the death knell of four-year-old indie rocker XFM at 101.1, which despite a loyal following never seemed to pull the right numbers.

Sliding into XFM’s slot is Rogers’ country station Y101, which slipped down the dial from 105.3. In its place came the adult contemporary Kiss FM. And then, just when you thought it was safe to wade back into the water, Kool FM (93.9) switched to Bob FM and Country 92 changed its letterhead to Jack FM.

All that is both boon and headache to buyers. On the downside, notes Mediaplus Advertising media director Regan Seymour, ‘there hasn’t been a true book and there won’t be until this spring…[so] it is really hard to do a buy based on GRP and cost per point right now. Station mix analysis is probably more important than it has ever been in the past.’

The other minus, note buyers, is the enormous amount of adult contemporary on air now. With so many players fighting for the same share, it’s unavoidable that there will be some losers in this tussle.

On the upside, the lack of numbers gives buyers leverage when it comes to negotiations. Some sellers (CHUM, for example) are even packaging stations to generate interest. As might be expected, inventory remains good, with bookings two to three weeks out, unless it is for a holiday.

TV

Although CTV’s CJOH retains its market dominance, the arrival of CHUM’s New RO in 2000 has had an effect on Ottawa. Buyers note that even the most stodgy newscasts are beginning to include more on-the-street reporting, and some observe that players are taking a much more active role in the community.

But has the New RO had more of an impact than that? Buyers note TV buys that used to be executed two to three months ahead now need to be booked four or five out instead, and that inventories seem a little tighter than last year.

Mediaplus’ Seymour says many of her clients are turning to sponsorships – such as closed caption or news sponsorships – to get on-screen less expensively, and that those are beginning to sell out early. They’re a good alternative for small retailers who could never spring for a :30 spot, and, says Seymour, ‘starting last spring, we’ve been buying them left, right and centre.’

Print

Things are quiet on the print front. The Ottawa Citizen retains its number-one ranking and appears to be doing more by way of sponsorships in the community. Buyers say the Ottawa Sun will add lifestyle sections (notably Fashion and Travel) to the Sunday edition soon. And, there are efforts to integrate print buys with online at all papers, as is the case in many other parts of the country.

Outdoor

Things have settled down now that the transit shelter switch-over from Pattison to Clear Channel has been completed. Buyers say the transition was smooth, and add that Clear Channel’s hints of more shelters to come is welcome news. With the Transportation Act restricting new board creation downtown, the only way to reach a wider audience in the core is with transit. Lead time for shelter and bus remains about three months.

Core billboard space tends to be taken for years at a time, so when it becomes available, Engelberts says she is often faced with immediate decisions. Truck boards, the rolling alternative, are beginning to be seen more frequently.