The NMA packages ignore the sector's flexibility

ITV is enjoying a massive ratings success around England's Rugby World Cup antics. The sight of 15 burly men fighting off South Africa, complete with torn and blood-spattered shirts, attracted a peak of 6.1m viewers and an audience share of 53%, writes Ian Darby.

And most of them were ABC1 men with money to burn on Land Rovers and Barbours. But while ITV is packing a punch harder than a Dallaglio right-hander, what of the national press?

While the broadsheets were bringing in bags of ads from the likes of Sky, O2 and Lloyds TSB around coverage of Saturday's win, a bid by the Newspaper Marketing Agency to sell a World Cup package has been thwarted.

Lest you forget, one of the NMA's first initiatives under its chief executive, Maureen Duffy, was to tempt advertisers to divert money from TV spend into one of two packages that offered a full-page in several national titles around coverage of the World Cup.

Duffy argues that the packages were intended as a case study to show newspapers could work together and that tailored creative around relevant editorial was a distinct selling point. "The papers have proved categorically that they can work together. It would have been great if we could have sold it this year but my view is that it's too late but there is a solution to take forward for next year," she says.

But there was a real package available. The "16- to 34-year-old" package cost £257,000 for a mono page in each of the 14 titles involved or £391,000 for colour. The "ABC1 package" was cheaper but again was close to the quarter of a million mark for a mono ad in 13 titles.

Aside from cost, there is a feeling that the packages ignore the great strength of newspapers: their flexibility. Mark Gallagher, the head of press at Manning Gottlieb OMD, says: "To make it more attractive now and encourage a test, it needs to be more sympathetically priced than traditional advertising, because the whole thing about press is it's flexible and this package isn't."

Buyers might want to come in at the last minute with a topical ad, take a quarter page rather than a full page or want to change the frequency of a campaign. Selling a package that treats all newspapers and coverage as one doesn't play to these strengths.

Some agencies would rather see the NMA offering more detailed research, say on reading habits with weekend supplements, but, that aside, some of its other activities give more cause for optimism.

Its first forum for press directors takes place in the next few days and its launch conference seemed to go down well. It's only ten months old and the feeling might persist that it is tinkering at the edges rather than offering the nuts-and-bolts research advertisers really want, but it won't be fair to judge until we see Duffy's 2004 plan.

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