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HIGH TECH, HIGH VALUE AND HIGH PERFORMANCE ARE KEYS TO THE SURVIVAL OF BTL SHOPS IN THE EVER-COMPETITIVE AGENCY JUNGLE, SAY EXECS IN FIRST-EVER MAA ROUNDTABLE

Diversity, Practical Experience Form the "Everything" Approach to Client Needs

STAMFORD, CT (March 15, 2004) -- As technology changes the way they communicate with clients and consumers, marketing agencies are finding it more important than ever to deliver value on every level while demonstrating credible returns on their and their clients’ investments. This was one of the points that came out of the Marketing Agencies Association Worldwide’s first-ever online roundtable, which took place in cyberspace last week with executives from below-the-line agencies in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Switzerland and the United States.

Participants agreed that it’s an exciting time to lead below-the-line agencies because BTL shops can capture more revenue by taking the “everything” approach to solving client problems. Indeed, agencies that have broadened their range of services appear to be better off now for their ability to engage not only in strategic thinking, but in such practical matters as Internet overlays, wireless SMS, text messaging components, event marketing, CRM, PR, and more.

“It’s no wonder that even media companies have begun to add such services to their repertoires to capture more share of clients’ budgets,” observed Shireen Moore, executive vice president of Chicago-based 141 Worldwide and President of the MAA Worldwide. “Clients are demanding more for less, increasing the downward pressure on (agency) margins, commented Andre Parsic, COO of Wunderman Zurich, who noted that his agency has developed a tool that measures its own ROI to increase its efficiency on specified projects.

All the executives agreed that clients have become more demanding in their agency relationships and look for qualitative services they can’t generate internally because of smaller marketing departments and fewer resources. “The majority of our programs extend to the Internet and utilize our clients’ permission-marketing programs and Web sites, many of which we’ve created for them. We’re looking at how to utilize cell phones, PDAs, ring tones and text messaging to engage and deliver more impactful benefits to consumers,” said 141’s Moore.

For their part, event (or ‘experiential’) marketing shops have branched out from sponsorships, parties and events. “Many of our real-world promotions feature interactive components that mirror events in the viral/Internet world,” offered Brad Bryen, president of New York-based US Concepts.

Most Roundtable participants conceded that ideation and strategic thinking are still the cornerstones of their value to their clients. “Our strategic planning remains insight-driven, according to Kieran Killeen, president of Dublin-based Marketing Network. Some clients “may be awed by our depth,” he allowed, while others “believe their own research to be more scientific.” As a community, he added, BTL agencies “need to bring basic research and common sense to bear on the strategic planning process.”

BTL agencies have become accomplished integrators through their ability to bring together such apparently disparate disciplines as trade marketing, direct marketing and public relations/publicity. “They’re integrated to a degree we’ve never seen before,” said Killeen. “It’s our clients who are driving the trend,” said Bryen of US Concepts. “We bring a range of experiences to the table, and they partner us with other shops they’re familiar with to round out the skill sets that are needed.”

According to Keith McCracken, president of GEM Group, headquartered in Minneapolis, “Integration used to be a nasty word. Now clients take it for granted. To some it means they don’t want any money wasted. To others it’s a way to stretch the budget.” Moore adds, “Integration is not only old news (to agencies), it’s the price of entry. If you’re not integrating or at least prepared to do so, you’re no longer seen as being able to deliver on client needs.” For Killeen in Ireland, “the trend is driven by our need as agencies to be able to offer added value, and to be more adaptable than the competition.”

In the end, “if the brand message is not heard it’s just not relevant, whatever the communication medium,” said David Ploughman, CEO of Toronto-based B Street Group. But in Australia, where budgets – and client companies alike – tend to be smaller, it’s a different story. Mike Da Silva, president of Sydney-based MDSA, said, “The multi-nationals are looking to us to drive their bottom line. They’ve got people looking after the brand, so they charge us with focusing on the tactical, and not so much the strategic, side.”

The challenge, according to Da Silva, is developing a recession-proof formula to protect his company from economic ups and downs. Added Peter McGoey of Toronto-based M Marketing Services, “It’s the age-old argument of above-the-line versus below-the-line, or ‘attitudinal’ versus ‘behavioral’ strategies and techniques. The problem is I don’t think clients make distinctions between the two. While it’s a sophisticated argument for us, the vast majority tends just to want a campaign that works.”

By and large, MAA Roundtable participants seemed to agree that even as an interconnected, media-savvy global economy continues to evolve, consumer behavior with respect to “advertising,” “promotion” and “marketing” varies from one region to the next. The message, for clients and agencies alike, is that impact will forever be linked to relevance.

Media contact:
David Ploughman
416-322-9661

Amie Smith Hughes (203) 978-1590
MAA Worldwide, Amie.Hughes@maaw.org

You can contact any of the executives featured in this press release via the contact information listed below:

Shireen Moore, Executive Vice President, 141 Worldwide, Chicago
smoore@141worldwide.com

Andre Parsic, COO, Wunderman, Zurich
andre.parsic@wunderman.ch

Brad Bryen, President, US Concepts, New York
bradb@usconcepts.com

Kieran Killeen, CEO, Marketing Network, Ireland
kieran@marketingnetwork.ie

Keith McCracken, President, GEM Group, Minneapolis
kmccracken@gemgroup.com

David Ploughman, CEO, B Street Group, Toronto
david@b-street.com

Mike Da Silva, President, MDSA, Sydney
mdasilva@mdsa.com.au

Peter McGoey, CEO, M Marketing Group, Toronto
petermcgoey@mmarketinginc.com