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Business Profile: True Media buys ad space nationwide for small and mid-size businesses

In business less than two years, True Media, a full-service media placement company, is expanding facilities to keep pace with its growing client base.

In addition to adding office space at its current downtown Columbia location, True Media soon will add a location in Canada to offer Canadian customers services similar to those provided in the United States.

“Currently, there’s not a state in the union we don’t buy advertising in,” said Jack Miller, owner and president of True Media.

Because Canada has a different rating system used to track media consumers, a separate office is required to conduct business there.

Miller said his company’s success is a product of the business model he follows.

“Right now there are only six major media-buying agencies in the United States controlling 80 percent of the national advertising,” he said. “Those six have the major clients like Reebok and McDonald’s.”

Miller saw a need for a media-buying business that could cater to the second-tier clients whose advertising budgets fall below the requirements of the “big six.”

He was right. Local firms using True Media services include familiar names such as Buchroeders, University Chrysler, Regan Honda and Central Dairy. Clients outside mid-Missouri include the University of Oklahoma, A.G. Edwards, St. Luke’s Hospital and the University of New Mexico.

In addition to retail, True Media specializes in the fields of finance, education, health care and athletics. With a growing customer base, True Media has experienced early and consistent success and plans to hire four or five more full-time employees within the next few months. “Growth has been exponential,” Miller said.

Miller’s foresight in anticipating the need for a company like True Media is based on an understanding of the global shift in how people consume media. Miller uses the following example to illustrate the dramatic changes in consumer habits. In 1985, the No. 1 television program in the U.S. was The Cosby Show, which aired on network television and garnered 65 million viewers weekly. Twenty years later, the absolute highest-rated show, whether on cable or a network, draws only 20 to 25 million viewers.

The reason for this change is choice.

“We, as consumers of media, live in a multi-platform world,” said Art Samuel, general manager and director of regional operations for OnMedia. OnMedia is the cable television advertising sales division of Mediacom Communications and one of the outlets through which True Media purchases air time.

“We’ve moved from traditional newspapers and 10 p.m. newscasts to getting our news through iPods, cell phones, the Internet and cable,” Samuel said. “We get it on demand, 24/7, when we want it.”

The proliferation of choices for the consumer also confounds businesses wishing to advertise their products and services.

“I think that’s where True Media and OnMedia share a common point,” Samuel said. “For our customers, it’s a lot more complex than just buying an annual contract.”

Rather, True Media performs analysis and negotiations for clients to get them the most bang for their advertising buck. For each client, True Media performs market and demographic research, develops a strategic plan, negotiates the prices of various media placement and then audits the media placement to track its success.

Kevin Zirges, head of corporate communications for A.G. Edwards in St. Louis, had 750 branches needing to purchase advertising. The choices in media outlets, coupled with the varying demographics from location to location, required branch managers to make decisions beyond their level of expertise.

“In the past, our local offices purchased media in their communities on their own. True Media has helped our branches get efficient and effective media buys, allowing them to focus on running their offices,” Zirges said.

Samuel agrees that the ever-growing web of media options is overwhelming for most business owners.

“There are 58 million iPods in service and 11.7 million satellite radio subscribers. The world is changing at an unbelievable pace as far as media consumption, and advertisers ignore these changes at their own peril,” Samuel said.

Because True Media has access to print, television and radio ratings, software that is cost prohibitive for most businesses, the company also can audit the performance of advertising to see whether it has lived up to the ratings guaranteed by the seller. This auditing saves money for Miller’s clients.

Looking ahead, Miller says the future is in online advertising.

“Online advertising is the fastest-growing segment of our business — particularly, the use of search words,” Miller said.

According to Miller, 80 percent of shoppers do their pre-purchase research online via search engines such as Yahoo or Google.

Web site optimization is also a growing interest. A Moberly native and alumnus of both the University of Missouri-Columbia and William Woods University, Miller is excited about the future of media.

“The world of media is changing more today than ever before,” he said. “This changing landscape certainly makes it more difficult for businesses to determine what to buy, how much of it to buy and what to expect from it. That’s why companies like ours are in such demand — not just in Columbia but nationally.”

“In this market, we’re the largest media buyer,” he said. Although True Media is not one of the “big six,” Miller has actually visited with the president and CEO of one of those companies, gathering and sharing information.

“I was there the day they won the Reebok account for $300 million,” Miller said. Although not in that league yet, Miller has found a market that allows him to work in mid-Missouri while growing an international client base.

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