LIVE ISSUE/DM HOTSHOPS: Direct start-ups take on above-the-line agencies - AIS is a brand-focused DM agency - and it’s part of a trend By Eleanor Trickett.

This year has seen a sizeable number of talented people scurry out of their big, ugly direct marketing agencies and try something new and sexy. The news that Stuart Archibald, Jon Ingall and Steve Stretton were forming AIS, a Havas-backed agency (Cam-paign, last week), neatly revived this year’s fashionable topic of conversation: is direct marketing becoming interesting at last?

This year has seen a sizeable number of talented people scurry out

of their big, ugly direct marketing agencies and try something new and

sexy. The news that Stuart Archibald, Jon Ingall and Steve Stretton were

forming AIS, a Havas-backed agency (Cam-paign, last week), neatly

revived this year’s fashionable topic of conversation: is direct

marketing becoming interesting at last?



A number of agencies have been set up in an attempt to reflect a

changing market. Archibald Ingall Stretton follows hot on the heels of

Partners Andrews Aldridge, backed by Partners BDDH (Campaign, 21

August), HPT Brand Response, backed by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe

(Campaign, 20 March), Hicklin Slade, an independent venture founded by a

couple of industry veterans (Campaign, 10 April) and Anthem, set up by

the Abbott Mead Vickers Group as its third-string direct marketing

shop.



If all the hype is to be believed, these agencies are taking the medium

forward by supplying fresh ideas and more than a small helping of brand

savvy, all of which seems to be helping the concept of direct marketing

move a little further up the food chain at the client end. And even

though they shy away from labelling themselves - ’direct marketing’,

’integrated’, ’below-the-line’ and even ’media neutral’ are terms that

seem to have lost currency through inaccurate usage - most have agreed

it is time to move away from the volume-driven models and get

creative.



While details about AIS are scant - the partners are keeping shtoom

about their positioning until the 1 October launch - it is known that

attention to the brand will be central. Steve Stretton, the creative

partner who is currently working out his notice as creative director of

Limbo, explains: ’We want to be an integral part of cracking the brand

problem. Normally, a brief is cracked by an ad agency and then filters

through to the direct marketing agency. We want to get to the heart of

the brand first and work outwards.’



Fighting talk, but what does it all mean? Surely they don’t expect

marketing directors to give direct agencies a crack of the brand whip?

Actually, they do. Jon Ingall, a managing partner of AIS and the former

managing director of Evans Hunt Scott, says: ’If you go to a direct

marketing agency, you get a direct marketing solution. If you go to an

ad agency, you get a TV ad. Our long-term ambition is to be our clients’

strategic partner and, overall, their main communications agency.’



But it’s not your everyday, run-of-the-mill kind of marketing director

who’ll give the branding task to anything other than an ad agency, is

it? Ingall thinks there is a trend towards just this. ’There have been

an awful lot of changes in the way that clients see their agencies and,

for the first time, marketing directors are the client for both the

advertising agency and the direct agency. As a result, the clients are

getting more experience in both areas and assessing how their brands

should be marketed with a more open mind.’



Steve Harrison, the creative partner of HPT Brand Response, says:

’Recently, we’ve seen the emergence of the direct-marketing-literate

brand manager.



They understand that direct or relationship marketing is fundamental to

the continued health of their brand. But they have been waiting for the

established direct marketing shops to match the rhetoric of brand

literacy.



Those agencies have failed in this because their cultures and

competencies were developed in market situations that are no longer

relevant to the needs of today’s client.’



Since its launch in March, HPT seems to have lived up to its launch

promises.



It has won business from Royal & Sun-Alliance, Telstra and the Granada

Plus channel, for which the agency’s first big campaign has just been

unveiled. ’It is the most comprehensive integrated campaign I’ve ever

been involved in,’ Harrison says, ’and the most satisfying because of

the clarity of purpose that comes from a strong brand idea.’



Simon Kershaw, a copywriter at Craik Jones Watson Mitchell Voelkel - an

agency credited from its inception in 1991 for its innovative thinking -

agrees there has been something of a trend towards brand marketing in

the below-the-line arena, but is sceptical of those who exaggerate the

extent to which the market has changed. ’Only a very few clients have

really asked for change in the agency world,’ he says. ’Above all, cars

have forced the change. With Land Rover, for example, the client

encourages a close and adult relationship between all of its agencies,

and we help each other to reach the same objectives.’



Steve Aldridge, a creative partner at Partners Andrews Ald-ridge, thinks

the older agencies have a lot of catching up to do. ’When direct

marketing agencies came on to the scene, their job was to come up with

tactical sales tools,’ he says. ’Now, the brand managers know not to

denigrate their brand by just doing that. We can now take a brand and

make it relevant to different segments.’



There are certainly enough high-profile start-ups to create the

impression that older shops need to rethink. Aldridge sums it up: ’I’m

not sure if the Barraclough Halls, the WWAVs, the Branns, can

effectively respond to what the new agencies will throw at them. We have

all spotted a trend which is, quite simply, to produce effective,

brand-aware and relevantly targeted work.’



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