INTERACTIVE: CASE STUDY/SMI GROUP; How SMI and World Writers set up a virtual office with Olivetti on the Net

John Owen discovers that the Net offers creatives a chance to work fast, and yet still produce great ads

John Owen discovers that the Net offers creatives a chance to work fast,

and yet still produce great ads

Websites can be used for all sorts of things. Nearly all of the ones

featured on these pages in the past have, for obvious reasons, been

marketing tools. But marketing, in its purest form, is a very small part

of what the Internet is about.

More generally, it’s about communication. And who, apart from the target

audience, is it most important for an agency to communicate with? The

client. Which is precisely what SMI Group, the specialist hi-tech agency

run by the former Young and Rubicam and Cogent account director, Alex

Letts, is using its Website for.

Like many of its rivals,, performs two standard

functions: wooing potential clients with examples of its work, and

content that aims to give users a reason to return to the site, in the

form of an interactive magazine, Hot Tuna. Its third function, however,

is far from standard. Within closed forums, the SMI site acts as a

virtual office in which work is discussed, developed and approved by

clients across Europe.

This feature, together with some incisive creative work and a ground-

breaking partnership with the international copywriting agency, World

Writers, was integral to SMI’s successful pitch for the pounds 20

million Olivetti personal computers pan-European ad account (Campaign,

19 April).

It works like this: the senior account team and creatives at SMI hammer

out a core concept with Olivetti’s director of marketing communications,

Robert Scott-Moncrief, in the usual way - face-to-face, over the phone;

nothing too techie. Then, the multilingual copywriters employed by World

Writers and SMI get together to write the ads. Each country,

effectively, has its own creative team, liaising with the local

marketing chief but sitting in the same room as all the other creatives

in London. They work in parallel and there’s no hierarchy, no ‘lead

agency,’ no ‘lead language’.

The work-in-progress is put up for inspection on the Website, so each

country’s marketing chief can suggest minor alterations to tailor it to

their market. Each country also has its own account handler, who will

talk at least once a week to the relevant marketer, again in the usual,

non-techie way.

When it’s ready, the work is put up on the site for approval. The client

can print it off or just inspect it on screen, and communicate with

either the native writer or the account handler. No couriers, no lost

packages, no lost time.

Ultimately, both SMI and World Writers believe that the whole of the

creative and production process will be done electronically. ‘When the

publishers wake up to this, we won’t even make a film of the ad. We’ll

just flick a button and send them a digital copy,’ Simon Anholt, the

World Writers managing director, predicts.

But the benefits are the speed with which copy can be turned around (the

partners produced 28 finished ads in seven languages in four days for

the pitch), the empowerment of local managers - which allows for

genuinely local ads that fit into an overall central strategy - and the

synergies that result from a collective approach. Anholt says: ‘The

brand will become more international because it is open to the

influences of each market.’

Adding to this, the partners are creating brand forums on the site where

local managers can discuss the way the brand is developing in their

countries, and are working on a CD-Rom about the brand for Olivetti

staff. SMI also uses its Website to deliver up-to-the minute IT news to

its clients.

As Letts says: ‘We are giving each local office an agency in

cyberspace.’ Who needs a traditional agency network when you’ve got the



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