Newspaper Partners rises like the phoenix

By: Lucia Moses

A new national newspaper advertising representative firm has arisen from the ashes of Sawyer Ferguson Walker, the ad rep firm that closed abruptly in March amid mysterious money troubles.
Newspaper Partners Inc. (NPI) officially opened for business earlier this month. Based in Los Angeles, it is staffed by 21 former Sawyer sales, sales management, and marketing employees, including four of five former senior vice presidents. The firm’s president is Ben Zangara, a former Sawyer vice president.
The company has backing from Western States Associates of Los Angeles, a newspaper rep firm exclusively for Tribune Co., that will take it to employee-owned status within two years, says John Kephart, formerly a senior vice president for Sawyer and now executive vice president and general sales manager for NPI.
Western States president Norm Branchflower says he was approached in early May by the former Sawyer executives, some of whom he knew from earlier in his career, and liked their business plan. “I know them, I know that they’re good-quality people. They know their marketplace,” he says.
Sawyer’s sudden closing and the money problems that preceded it haven’t impeded NPI from gaining the trust of Sawyer’s past clients, Kephart says. He says the firm has contracts and/or letters of intent from 14 newspapers, most of them former Sawyer clients. “They had confidence in our ability and in the management team,” he says.
Founded in 1929 as Sawyer-Ferguson Co., Sawyer grew to become one of the nation’s oldest and biggest independent rep firms. It suffered from financial troubles in recent years due to losses of clients and capital. In 1995, it was bought by Berkeley Acquisition Corp., a New York-based company with media and ad industry holdings. The sudden closing baffled employees, who said the firm had been bringing in new clients and turned a profit the previous year.
John Power, who was chairman of Sawyer from the time of the purchase in 1995, has said only that Sawyer’s bank pulled its credit line without warning. “We were bouncing checks to employees and vendors, which I think was absolutely terrible.” Reached at home, he says he is still working with the bank to sort out the matter.
Power says he didn’t know about NPI but says it has a chance to do well, noting that Sawyer had been adding clients when it shut down. “I think there are some tremendous opportunities,” he says.
Branchflower says unlike Sawyer, which had 65 clients when it closed, NPI needs to focus on a smaller clientele.
“Today they should do a lot more for the advertising community,” he says. “That’s where I believe we need to be proactive in selling. We can’t do that if we have a large group.”

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