Indie ad ‘giveaway’ sparks storm

The Independent newspaper is giving advertising away free on its relaunched education supplement and not declaring the giveaways to Media Monitoring Services.

The same classified policy is likely to be used in The Independent’s new media section, to be launched on Monday, February 17.

According to a leaked letter and contract between The Independent and a university, no charge would be levied for ads in the first three months in Education Plus if the advertiser buys equal volumes of the ads placed in either The Guardian or the Times Higher Education Supplement, whichever has the greater.

The letter, from Independent classified ad manager Mark Meek, dated November 11 1996, says: “If you get the response levels you require, we will charge you a rate of 6 scc (single column centimetre) up until September 1997, 11.75 scc up until September 1998 and 18 scc up until September 1999.” By comparison, The Guardian is thought to charge about 40 scc.

The letter says the university would not be surcharged if it did not match volumes of ad space in The Guardian or the THES.

Sources believe The Independent is offering a two-year classified deal in the prospective media supplement. Ads would be free for six months, then kick in at 5 per column centimetre for a further six months. By the end of year two, they would be paid for at the going rate. Independent managing director Jeremy Reed claims the media section will not make the same offer: “Our market is stronger in media,” he says.

A spokesman for Media Monitoring Services says that ads that are given away should not be included in its data and should count as editorial. But Reed claims he has consulted MMS about the giveaways.

Though the MMS spokesman will not comment on the alleged discussion, it is understood that MMS is re-examining The Independent’s data. “Obviously it is important that our data is seen to be totally above board,” adds the spokesman.

According to the latest MMS data, The Independent’s share of the market increased from 1.9 per cent in July last year to 32 per cent in December, mainly as a consequence of giving ads away to advertisers.

In the same period, The Guar-dian’s share of “education” volume among national newspapers has decreased from 88.3 per cent to 60.4 per cent and the Times has fallen from 40 per cent to two per cent.

Carolyn McCall, ad director for The Guardian and the Observer, says: “If The Independent wants to be in profit, this won’t get it there.”

One source adds: “What is to stop The Independent doing the same on display?”

Reed does not see anything wrong with making “long-term agreements with advertisers, developed to build market share”.

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