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Centro, the media planner that tries to “simplify the entire local online media buying process for agencies and media partners,” took a hit from auto advertising last year. But it has continued to grow overall, thanks to gains in regional and political advertising.

The 112-person, Chicago-based company now has 11 regional offices and was named to Inc. Magazine’s 500 fastest growing companies with $82.2 million in verified revenues for 2008. Four or five more regional offices are slated to be opened in the next 12 months.

CEO and Founder Shawn Riegsecker says automotive advertising has been down 25 percent to 30 percent for Centro, which has worked closely with General Motors and others to place local advertising. But the company more than made up for it with the boom in its regional and political advertising.

“Regional is just starting to take off this year and next,” he says. It is “the fastest growing segment.” Expectations are “we will grow it in the triple digits.”

Riegsecker acknowledges that regional advertising continues to have its pros and cons. On the pro side, these advertisers will be “the best advertisers in the next three to four years,” based on their compounded growth rate. On the con side, they typically have smaller budgets, and they need more help and extended services. But that’s really a plus for Centro’s business, which provides a comprehensive software solution, he says.

On a category-by-category basis, the biggest gains are coming from government and politics, financial, insurance and energy/utilities. “Insurance is up significantly year over year,” says Riegsecker. He also explains why financials are shown to be up in a terrible year. “Regional banks weren’t hit quite as hard and see opportunities to pick up new customers,” he says.

Political advertising, meanwhile, has become a real bread-and-butter category for the company, now accounting for up to 15 percent of revenues. Riegsecker says the company has transitioned from the 2008 campaign, where it handled advertising for Obama, Clinton and McCain, to the present advocacy-driven environment, which is largely driven by health-care and green initiatives. Next year, it will be back to elections again, as 37 governorships will be decided in the midterm elections.

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