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College papers increasingly targeted by national advertisers

The prosperity of college papers goes against the trend of declining revenue at most commercial newspapers. College Publisher, a company that hosts Web sites for 450 college papers, was recently purchased by media giant Viacom. The company already owns mtvU, a television network aimed at college students. College Publisher general manger Dina Pradel says large national corporations are realizing the potential of marketing to college students, and are increasingly placing ads in local papers. Everyone from Ford Motor Company, Samsung Electronics, Geico Insurance, Macy's (place ads in college papers), Pradel says. Every category of advertiser that wants a connection to the college-educated market, from retail to consumer electronics to finance. It's really a wide-open market for campus papers.

Pradel says the only asset a paper has to attract advertisers is its readers. And she says this is where college papers have an advantage. Newspapers bins holding stacks of free papers can be found all around most campuses. A recent survey by the student research firm Student Monitor shows 76 percent of college students read their college paper because they consider it edgier and more relevant than other print media.

Ohio State's student newspaper "The Lantern" is one of the beneficiaries of the current advertising market. With a circulation of more than 28,000 and about 12,000 hits on its Web site every day, the paper is the second largest in the country behind the University of Texas' "Daily Texan." Lantern manager Ray Catalino says national ad revenue is up 27 percent over the last five years. Local advertising is only up four percent. Catalino says campus marketers are focusing on newspapers because they are so widely read.

The content is devoted to campus information, and most college students want to know what's going on on campus, Catalino says. They don't necessarily find that in the commercial papers, and the campus papers tend to cover campus really well, so that's why they're so widely read.

So if it's such a good market, why have major corporations traditionally stayed away from college campuses? Catalino says it took a long time for companies to become convinced college students were good consumers.

Since they've now established that, advertisers are beginning to come to the college market. It's a good trend for us.

Many of the OSU students Catalino refers to can be found walking to and from class on the Oval, the crossroads of OSU's Columbus campus. Sophomore anthropology major Glen Henson walks across the Oval every day, and he says he often reads The Lantern along the way. He says a company trying to appeal to college students is using common sense.

We're here, and we obviously have enough money to be in school, Henson says. They're targeting mostly technology stuff like iPods and things like that in college newspapers, so it makes sense.

But second-year student Alison Sewel says she remains skeptical of large corporations on campus. She says she prefers shopping at smaller local businesses.

I'd rather see local advertisements, and I'd rather give the local people my business.

Sewal appears to be in the minority. Ardi Issac of the Columbus advertising agency Young Issac says some of his biggest clients advertise regularly in The Lantern with much success. He says most college students are very receptive to ads, especially those that feature people students can identify with.

What works with younger people is someone like them who has just made the decision to do something, a decision they themselves might be facing, Issac says. If you can show me someone who's just a little bit like me, but they're just a little bit further down the road and they've come to a good conclusion, that's what I need.

Issac says young men have always been the most sought-after demographic because of their discretionary spending on big-ticket items such as stereos and televisions. He says marketers have always 0looked for new ways to market to young people, and they will continue to do so.