What if the only way you could get your daily newspaper was by running down to a market or newsstand and shelling out 35 cents to buy a copy?

Chances are, you wouldn't read it too often. And that's been La Opinion's problem for the last three quarters of a century.

La Opinion of Los Angeles is the biggest Spanish-language daily in the country, not to mention one of the oldest. It was founded in 1926, well before Latinos became a dominant ethnic group in Los Angeles. In October it will offer home delivery for the first time, thanks to a joint distribution initiative with the Los Angeles Times.

La Opinion, which is 50 percent owned by Times Mirror Co., is something of an underachiever considering the explosive growth of its core audience over the past decade. Even as Spanish-language TV and radio stations have started pulling down the highest ratings in the L.A. market, La Opinion's circulation has been shrinking.

For the six months ended March 31, La Opinion's circulation averaged 100,326, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. That compares to 104,579 for the same period last year.

Spanish broadcasters have a habit of pointing to numbers like this and telling advertisers that Latinos don't read, so put your money in radio or TV. Actually, a study by Latino market research firm Western Publication Research indicates that the number of Latino-oriented publications nationally has grown by 69 percent since 1990, combined circulation has jumped by 248 percent to 33 million, and ad revenue has risen by 305 percent to $572 million.

So with all that growth, what's the problem at La Opinion? Some have blamed a lack of effort to expand the paper by its owners, the Lozano family.

"People at other publications have paid attention to business. For years, La Opinion made a very nice living for the Lozano family, and that was good enough," said one local newspaper analyst.

Miguel Pereira, La Opinion's marketing director, counters that this year's circulation drop was an anomaly caused by a slowdown in promotional efforts during the fourth quarter of 1998. Though more recent Audit Bureau figures aren't yet available, Pereira says La Opinion's current circulation is closer to 110,000.

Even so, there's little question that La Opinion's growth has been seriously hampered over the years by the fact that it wasn't a home-delivered newspaper. Pereira said home distribution was simply too expensive in the past but now, the company will cut costs by sharing distribution with the Times.

Even though Times Mirror has owned its 50 percent stake since 1990, it has only recently started taking advantage of the relationship.

"Now there is a true desire by both companies to reach the Hispanic market," Pereira said. "I think now the L.A. Times recognizes the need to use La Opinion to reach Hispanic households."

Only 18 percent of Latinos in five Southern California counties read the Times, compared with 28 percent of the population as a whole. The Times, on a major push to increase its readership among Latinos, seems to have finally realized this is a problem. In August, La Opinion began bundling copies of the Times in many of its regular issues distributed out of newsstands, in an effort to boost Times readership among bilingual Latinos.

Will the home-distribution plan, subscribers will be able to get either La Opinion bundled with the Times or separately delivered to their homes. Will it bring a jump in La Opinion's readership? Pereira says the paper has an ambitious goal to double its circulation within the next five years. And Latino marketing experts agree that home delivery will provide a huge boost.

"It could make all the difference," said Anita Santiago, head of Anita Santiago Advertising in Santa Monica. "Part of the problem with La Opinion is the bother of having to go out and get one."

But that doesn't mean that Santiago's agency will be buying more space in the publication. La Opinion's advertisers tend to be community retailers. Few large national corporations, other than banks advertising minority lending programs required under the Community Reinvestment Act, have much interest in local Spanish dailies.

"(La Opinion) is just really small circulation for what we're trying to do (for large advertisers)," Santiago said. "When you're trying to get a corporate message out to the masses, it's not the way to go. TV and radio are it in this market."

Creativity by design

Is Ogilvy & Mather getting hip?

Ogilvy, known for its work with such radical, Gen-X clients as American Express, IBM and Kodak, has hired the Culver City architecture firm Shubin + Donaldson to design a new Los Angeles office. Shubin + Donaldson is known for cutting-edge design of creative spaces; it recently designed the converted Marina del Rey warehouse occupied by Ground Zero, one of the wildest of the wild creative offices in Los Angeles.

Gerald McGee, general manager of Ogilvy's L.A. office, is tight-lipped about the agency's moving plans. He acknowledges that he's looking for new space because the lease at the agency's West L.A. office tower is expiring. But he won't provide any details about the kind of new office he's asking Shubin + Donaldson to design.

"We're definitely changing," McGee said. "We're looking for something that works for us, but makes a statement about how we work. It will definitely be something out of the beehive and corporate box."

McGee wouldn't reveal where the agency is planning to move, but real estate brokers are more forthcoming. The agency is close to signing a deal for 40,000 to 45,000 square feet at Conjunctive Points, a new-media complex along Culver City's Hayden Avenue consisting of warehouses converted into funky office space by acclaimed architect Eric Owen Moss, according to Senior Vice President Ian Strano with First Property Realty Corp.

Assistant Managing Editor Dan Turner writes a weekly column on marketing for the Los Angeles Business Journal. He can be reached via e-mail at dturner@labusinessjournal.com.

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