Media market soft but no one’s seeing

Media buyers looking for 'deep discount' rates similar to those that their U.S. counterparts are getting from suppliers south of the border are finding some flexibility, although media buyers are reluctant to speak about deals.

Media buyers looking for ‘deep discount’ rates similar to those that their U.S. counterparts are getting from suppliers south of the border are finding some flexibility, although media buyers are reluctant to speak about deals.

If any particular media outlet is offering ‘bargain’ prices, it’s not likely to be a hot topic around the water cooler because of the competitive nature of the business, says David Chung, president of MaxxMedia in Toronto. ‘To me the secret of negotiating and getting good deals is to keep your mouth shut.’ Media suppliers also don’t want it getting around that one buyer has negotiated a lower rate, prime ad placement or free colour thrown in when another buyer hasn’t.

Chung adds that while rates are definitely more competitive than they are in a strong economy, they are also more negotiable in terms of added value.

‘Added value depending on what we’re looking for, could include straight additional weight, or could include promotional value.

‘[Media suppliers] are also bringing in some co-op partners where it makes sense for promotions or contests. Everybody is working hard at being more competitive and providing better pricing and value overall.’

Speaking confidentially, another media buying executive said there really are a lot of deals out on the street: ‘Then there are other books willing to see how they can help out with more added-value things, because they don’t want to go off rate card. So they’re doing editorial and offering inserts, poly-bagging and sample distribution for clients.’

Jack Tomik, SVP at Toronto’s CanWest Media Sales, says the company has been approached by a number of media buyers looking for whatever additional discounts they can garner, likely prompted by what’s happening in their U.S. or parent offices, but he says there isn’t that much wiggle room in Canada.

‘If in my last three years, [rate] increases were 14%, 16% and 18% [as in the U.S.], I would have no hesitation in dropping my rates by 10% this year. I’d be happy to. But the Canadian market is significantly different. The growth has been slow and steady over the last three years in almost all media – 2%, 3%, and 5%. Under that guise, you don’t expect the huge [pricing] spikes that they do in the U.S.’

Figures quoted at the 2001 American Magazine Conference in New York this past October pegged U.S. advertising spending for the first half of 2001 down 6.4% from the same period last year. At the same conference David Verklin, CEO of Carat New York, predicted that ad spending in 2002 would decline another 5% to 5.5% from the final 2001 outcome. Publisher’s Information Bureau stats show that, through October, magazine ad pages had already dropped 10.1%.

Canadian media companies may not be having a banner year like they did in 2000 either, but the bottom hasn’t dropped out of the business. In fact, a small increase in advertising spending is expected this year.

Statistics released by the CRTC at the end of October projected an overall 3.3% gain in advertising spending across all media this year, from $7.4 billion to nearly $7.7 billion. Since 1995, year over year increases have ranged from 5% to 9%, except for 1999 when it was a paltry 2.5%. (These figures were provided to the CRTC by Carat Expert, the research arm of Carat Canada, and they do not include phone directories or direct mail.)

Bruce Claassen, CEO of Genesis Media in Toronto, says there was a dip in newspaper spending after Sept. 11 but it has come back as retailers returned to the medium, likely because of the holiday season. Claassen admits that, ‘there is a little bit of dealing going on,’ but says it is focused in ‘soft areas.’

‘I think the [Toronto] Sun and the National Post are doing that [offering lower rates] and a few others, but generally speaking media companies are seeing business come back,’ he says. ‘Radio, certainly in the southwestern Ontario market, is virtually in a sold-out position. In television, there’s a little bit more going on in terms of dealing but that’s partly because clients are extremely late in advancing budgets and giving go-aheads so there are some nervous people.

‘In the online business, the deep discounting happened in the earlier part of the year so they’ve plateaued now and are at the rate structure I think they’re going to operate on for some time.’

Most media properties claim the situation isn’t desperate. For his part, Tomik says he hasn’t needed to drop prices on CanWest’s television properties because sales have been very steady this year due to its strong programming lineup.

Sandy Muir, VP marketing and advertising sales at the Globe and Mail, says sales have been weaker for some advertising categories, but negotiations with media buyers are no different than they were in the past. ‘We don’t believe putting in short-term incentives would make much difference to our business. With a newspaper like this, we still have to go out and sell the value of the Globe and Mail readers and that’s what we’re doing.

‘In some categories that’s currently working better than in others. Our retail spending is up.’

Mitch Dent, VP of the Women’s Group for Rogers Publishing, is pretty optimistic about the magazine market and is, in fact, getting ready to launch Images in partnership with Shoppers Drug Mart early next year. Dent says the women’s magazine market is strong and he expects some modest growth. ‘There are a lot of everyday items advertised in [the women's market] that are somewhat recession proof. They’re going to buy baby things no matter what.’ And he adds that the women’s market is less dependent on discretionary items like cars and computers. ‘We’re not seeing the wholesale dealing we’re seeing in the U.S., nor have we seen the dimension of declines that the U.S. is seeing.’

That being said, Dent is not taking the business for granted and is looking for creative ways to provide added value to advertisers. Earlier this year, for instance, Rogers put out a full-sponsor edition of Today’s Parent for Disney and Dent expects to use that model again in a variety of different properties as well as increasing custom publishing efforts. There will also be expansions of some promotional and event programs under the Kid’s Summer banner and Today’s Parent Kid’s Club label.

‘If you were to pick your economic times, this wouldn’t exactly be ideal but we’re getting substantial orders at this time.’