Legacy Seeks Partner As Ad Budget Dwindles

Getting a media company to run anti-tobacco PSAs in prime time, imbed the same messages in programming content, and run one ad free for every paid spot would be a sweet deal for the cash-strapped American Legacy Foundation if it can get it.

Legacy, which manages the “Truth” antismoking campaign, presented such a proposal to its board May 11, a day after a Delaware judge heard arguments in a breach of contract lawsuit filed by the Lorillard Tobacco Co. Should Lorillard win, it will ask the court to order Legacy to return all the money it has received to run the antismoking campaign.

Legacy needs cash. The tobacco industry stopped paying Legacy to run its public- education effort in 2003. Under the Master Settlement Agreement, which created Legacy and the campaign, the tobacco industry is no longer required to pay Legacy when its market share falls below 99.05 percent. Where it once spent more than $110 million on its hard-hitting “Truth” campaign in 2001, with work done by Havas’ Arnold in Boston and Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Miami, the group spent $60 million on ads last year. That number will decline each year until 2009, when it will have no money left to spend on ads.

If its board approves the media partnership idea, Legacy plans to approach companies like Viacom and Time Warner. Legacy hopes to copy the agreement the Kaiser Family Foundation forged with Viacom in 2003 regarding HIV messages. Kaiser and Viacom pay about $600,000 a year for production costs, pamphlets and a Web site, Kaiser and Viacom officials said. Viacom kicks in about $220 million worth of donated time and space, and also makes Kaiser research available to its writers. Viacom officials said its writers are under no pressure to include HIV messages in scripts. AIDS has been a theme in such shows as ER on CBS and UPN’s Girlfriends. DDB, Seattle and MDC Partners’ CP+B prepare creative for the Kaiser effort.

“We have been thinking about how to package a plan,” said Legacy CEO and president Cheryl Healton. “We have not made a direct request yet. But we plan to try to understand from the [media companies] what is the best accommodation they can make for us in view of our status as a public charity.”

Legacy has been doing its homework. The group’s officials met with Kaiser staffers in January to learn more about the Viacom partnership. “Securing a media match and a partnership is the right way for them to go at this time,” said Matt James, Kaiser’s svp of media and public education.

Right now, Legacy can still afford to chip in some cash to make the deal more attractive. But Legacy’s efforts could prove Sisyphean in nature because media companies may find it impossible to ignore Big Tobacco’s purchasing power. Altria, which owns Kraft Foods, spent some $215 million on U.S. advertising last year, $75 million of which appeared on Viacom’s CBS alone, according to Nielsen Media Research. Any media partnership with Legacy is likely to be frowned upon by the tobacco industry.

Bruce Silverman, who once handled creative and media for antismoking campaigns in California, Oregon and Washington, thinks Legacy’s tactic of attacking tobacco companies in the “Truth” spots works against it. He said it will be hard for media companies to do business with both Legacy and tobacco companies. “Why bite the hand that feeds you that way?” he said.