Inter/Media’s New Unit Has An Eye on Unbought Time

Leftovers. The word is enough to fill many with dismay. But in the world of per inquiry advertising, in which broadcasters are paid based on sales resulting from commercials, leftover media time can be an opportunity, and one shop aims to take advantage of the market with a dedicated unit that will serve the arena.

“With the fragmentation of media, we’re seeing even more per inquiry opportunities and even more media vehicles,” said Robert Yallen, president of Encino, Calif., independent Inter/Media Advertising, which last week launched Mediapoint Network.

The direct-response shop’s new unit will find unsold time for direct-response spots with no upfront expense. Media venues instead receive a fixed cost-per-lead or sale-generated portion of the revenue resulting from the ads.

Yallen said he rounds up per inquiry advertising for 12 of his clients, including and a Northern California law firm. He said Inter/Media, which has more than 60 employees and claims $250 million in billings, has developed a network of 750 participating media venues in the U.S., including local and national network and cable, syndicated national TV, syndicated national radio and print.

It is difficult to quantify the time available for such advertising. But sources agreed that availability picks up as the economy slows down, although major media events such as the Summer Olympics and the election may slow the uptick this year.

Per inquiry time also has been boosted by additional broadcast stations and new satellite networks, said Randall Whatley, president of Cypress Media Group in Atlanta.

“It’s pretty attractive, especially for smaller advertisers,” said Gary Stein, a senior analyst at Jupiter Research in San Francisco. Stein agreed with Whatley that per inquiry time has grown in the last few years, but added that it remains a niche. “It’s a good way to dip your toes in the water, and it’s also great for a sales team. With the lean years, it’s a great way to establish a connection with advertisers.”

Buddy Johnson, national sales manager at UPN affiliate WRJM in Montgomery, Ala., said per inquiry is especially useful because WRJM is a relatively new station. (It launched in November 2000.) “We have a tremendous amount of inventory that is not going to be sold out,” Johnson said. “I’ve never been a manager at a station where we really sold out, especially a new station. It is not a big … part of revenue, but it is enough that you want to give time to work it.”

Leading Inter/Media’s six-person division is vp of affiliate sales and operations Amy Hanno, 28, who joined Inter/Media about a month ago from Cornerstone Media Group in Minneapolis, where she was marketing manager.

Yallen said he formed a special unit for per inquiry in part because of the unique methods of measuring the advertising’s results. “It’s its own specialty,” he said. “It requires separate staffing and separate systems.”

Per inquiry advertising measures results—and payment for the time—through the unique toll-free numbers or Web site addresses used in the ads. The broadcast outlets generally are paid 30-45 percent of the cost of the item or service for sale.

Hanno acknowledged that per inquiry opportunities are cyclical. “With the buildup of the war last year, advertisers kept pulling back time, and PI did really well,” she said. “Now that the economy is stronger, we have less time.”

While the ads may be more likely to run in off-peak hours in third-tier markets, Yallen said that “there are major markets that do lots of PI.” The first quarter is the strongest, he added.

Still, Stein said outlets faced with unsold time should always be open to per inquiry advertising. “If it’s that or a house ad, they might as well throw it out there and see if they get something for it,” he said.