When Rich Davis acquired an ailing Battle Creek, Mich., Buick dealership last August, he decided to scrap the company's advertising campaign and fire his ad agency. But he quickly discovered that writing the ads himself was time consuming. So Davis decided to experiment with a different strategy: shared advertising.

Banks, jewelry stores, car dealerships, funeral homes, furniture stores -- just about any local, retail-oriented business that provides a fairly standardized product or service -- can cut down on expensive production costs by using syndicated commercials. These are, essentially, generic advertisements, developed for a particular type of business, with local information dubbed in.

The cost of campaigns can vary. Network Affiliates Inc., a Denver-based syndication agency that specializes in ads for lawyers, charges its clients $7,500 per year for 24 television commercials. Leon Shaffer Golnick Advertising Inc., a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., syndicator, charges individual clients, mainly banks and car dealers, about $5,000 a year for 15 separate radio commercials, plus 30 print ads. Each radio spot is custom-made at the agency's in-house studios, and different announcers are used for the same campaigns to vary the sound of the ads.

Whatever the rate, clients find that good syndicators can offer significant savings, and often high-quality work. "We'd get great service from our [local] agency the first year; mediocre the second; and lousy service the third," says Robert Wilkie, executive vice-president of the Newport, N.H., Sugar River Savings Bank, which signed on this year with Leon Shaffer Golnick. He claims that his bank's radio ads now stand out from those of his competitors, many of which have the local radio station deejays read the ad copy. Moreover, Sugar River will be able to double its media budget this year by eliminating the high production costs charged for advertising by its agency in Concord, N.H.

Two words of caution: Avoid syndicators whose advertising campaigns show little understanding of your industry and your customers' needs. Also, before using syndicated advertising, get a contract specifying that the agency will not sell the same campaign to other companies in, or near, your marketing area.