Spot Runner Eyes Franchise Market

Contours Express had a dilemma. It wanted to help its 300-plus local U.S. fitness franchisees run TV spots. But the company found many ad agencies were not structured to create dozens of commercials tailored for and bought in local markets—at a low cost, to boot.

Instead, the franchise is turning to Spot Runner, the Los Angeles Web-based ad shop targeting segments not served by big ad agencies. Spot Runner has set up a portal where Contours’ franchisees can customize stock creative, and add their own voiceovers and local contact information. Franchisees build a media plan from Spot Runner’s inventory of mostly cable TV time slots. Prices vary by market, but a monthlong campaign costs as little as $1,500.

“It allows them to tap into ad agency services at a local level that probably couldn’t be done in the so-called traditional agency model,” explained Eddie Leonard, director of marketing at Contours.

While Spot Runner provides creative and media services, it does not see itself as a direct competitor to agencies, said David Waxman, a company co-founder. It has a deal with WPP Group’s JWT to provide local ad executions for some of its clients.

Tapping established agencies and franchisees to reach local businesses is “a much more efficient strategy than the self-service Google model,” said Greg Sterling, a local ad analyst.

Franchise businesses are also a lucrative market: The top 500 racked up $134 billion in sales in 2005, according to Entrepreneur magazine. In addition to Contours, Spot Runner works with iSold It, an eBay consignment franchise, and Realogy, the parent of Century 21, Coldwell Banker and ERA. OrthoClear, which sells teeth straightening through a network of orthodontists, is also a client.

“A lot of local guys are affiliated with a national brand,” said Waxman. “Those national brands have trouble supporting local guys in their advertising efforts, particularly on TV.”