SSA Ventures Into Publishing

Boat Line Management Develops Plans for Advertising Displays on Water and in Terminals; Considers New Magazine

Gazette Senior Writer

Slick advertising contracts with retailers like J. Crew and the Black Dog. Display advertising on ferries and inside boat line terminals. A four-color glossy "in-float" magazine on board ferries.

These are the harbingers for the coming year at the Steamship Authority, where plans are now in the works to boost revenues through new marketing and publishing ventures.

Exactly how much money can be made from these ventures remains to be seen - especially during what is widely acknowledged to be a down market for advertising sales - but senior managers at the boat line said this week they want to give it a whirl.

"We think there is some potential there for some modest revenue," said SSA chief executive officer Fred C. Raskin this week. "Every little thing counts," he added.

Earlier this year the boat line signed a three-year contract with Carroll Advertising in Boston to help launch a new marketing program.

The program includes plans for selling space for display advertising inside boat line terminals and also on the ferries. The boat line also plans to begin charging fees for the right to place publications on the ferries and in the terminals.

There have already been a couple of false starts - a plan to allow J. Crew to drop gifts on the seats of the ferry to Nantucket was abandoned at the last minute, as was a plan that called for allowing the Black Dog to place a banner in the Woods Hole and Vineyard Haven terminals this weekend announcing its end of summer sale.

Black Dog managers said this week that they decided not to do the banner because the cost was too high.

But the plan to launch a high-end magazine is still on track. The magazine will be given away free on the ferries that ply the routes between Cape Cod and the Islands.

The Boston advertising firm Pierce-Cote is doing the design work and Regan Communications will be responsible for the editorial content, according to Paula Peters, the recently hired director of marketing and public relations for the boat line.

"This is a very exciting venture," said Ms. Peters, who was formerly a reporter for the Cape Cod Times.

She said a name has not been chosen yet for the magazine, which is being described as an "in-float" publication.

Ms. Peters said original plans called for publishing a boat line newsletter, but she said the plans quickly changed to a glossy high-end magazine aimed at generating revenue from advertising sales. She said the editorial content of the magazine will be aimed at travelers to the Cape and Islands. "These people need information and we should be providing them with the information they need," she said.

An April launch date is planned for the new magazine.

Ms. Peters and Mr. Raskin both said the boat line has not yet calculated how much money can be generated through advertising sales, and they said the startup costs for the new magazine are still incomplete. They said they will be happy if the magazine breaks even at first.

"This is going to take some time and we're not going to rush into it; we are going to do things gradually," Mr. Raskin said.

Money for the magazine and other new marketing ventures will be included in the preliminary budget due to come before boat line governors at their monthly meeting next week in New Bedford. Mr. Raskin said the advertising budget will go up this year, but he could not say how much. The advertising budget last year was about $300,000, Mr. Raskin said.

He defended the decision by the boat line to compete with other publications in the region who depend on advertising sales for revenue.

"Why is that wrong - it's not competition, we don't have shareholders," Mr. Raskin said. "Whatever we do that succeeds, it succeeds to the end of lowering or slowing the increase of fares. If it is in fact competition with local merchants, so what? The field of publications on the Cape and Islands is deep, and this is going to be one more," he added.

The plan to jump into the magazine market drew a quick blast yesterday from one seasoned publishing executive on Cape Cod.

"That's astonishing - everyone else is cutting their budgets and the Steamship Authority is going to stick its neck out? They're not going to make money, they're not publishers and they're not marketers. They're going to lose money - I guarantee it," said Walter Brooks, who is chief executive officer of Best Read Guide, the company that conceived the popular pocket guides for tourists that are distributed throughout the country. Mr. Brooks also owns Cape Cod Today, an online magazine.

Mr. Brooks said it is an understatement to call the advertising market on the Cape and Islands saturated. "It's more than saturated - it's gone down. Most people are down 20 per cent this year - I have just come back from a trip to Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire and I can tell you for a fact that tourism is down 20 per cent all over New England. Rather than startups, there are going to be a few people pulling the plug [on magazines] this year," he said.

Mr. Brooks was highly critical of the idea that the public boat line would decide to get into the media business.

"It's foolhardy for a state-supported, Vineyard and Cape Cod-supported agency to get into a business that competes with people who pay the taxes and the fares that support them. It's unconscionable," he said.

He also said the boat line will confront a new cleanup headache.

"The magazines are going to be left all over the boats and all over the terminals," he said, concluding:

"The last time I checked on Cape Cod there was one daily, 15 weeklies, half a dozen magazines - all those people are professionals and they are all taxpayers and the Steamship Authority is now going to take money away from them - what do you think that is going to do to their attitude about the Steamship Authority?"

Mr. Raskin had another view.

"Some might say that all we should be doing is driving a boat back and forth five or six miles - but I think we can make things more enjoyable," he said.