NEW MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON FUTUREOGILVY - Is a downturn the best time to unveil Ogilvy's digital TV unit? Ogilvy Group is hungry to be known as an interactive TV specialist

It seems brave to launch an interactive TV division in the current

climate of uncertainty. Actually, futureOgilvy isn't just an interactive

television specialist - it will also develop wireless opportunities -

but interactive television is the main game. Or will be, eventually.



This is surely a bold move during a downturn, even though Ogilvy's old

approach - ad hoc and unstructured - has forged it a track record in

interactive television that's as impressive as you'll find in

London.



Way back in 1994 and 1995 it was involved in the first UK domestic

interactive technology trials, run by BT in Suffolk. And its client,

Unilever, has insisted it remain at the forefront, in advertising

implementation terms.



Oglivy was, for example, a prime mover, along with Initiative Media,

behind the first interactive TV commercial - an ad for Chicken

Tonight.



It also developed the Creative Kitchen theme for Unilever Bestfood's on

the Sky interactive platform. And, of course, it was the launch agency

for Open, which meant it had every chance to get its head around some of

the technical stuff before anyone else got a peek.



The new unit is to be headed by David Muir, a man marked out early on by

senior management as a high flier. He was one of O&M's youngest ever

account directors, and was appointed to the Ogilvy board in his

mid-20s.



Two years ago, he stepped down from his position as new-business

director to take an MBA. This is his first posting since returning.



So why futureOgilvy? And why now? Muir says: "What we've had before is

the skills scattered throughout the Ogilvy Group and at this stage it

makes sense to have them all in one place. There are two benefits - it

helps in terms of an internal education process within the group and it

creates a buying point for clients. If we're taking this expertise to

different clients - both current Ogilvy clients and potential ones as

well - then we're only going to get a gig with them if we are structured

in this way. You have to create a specialist unit."



However, isn't integration the ultimate goal in the interactive

television market? Surely the longer the industry regards interactive

television as something alien and difficult, the longer it will remain

an exotic, but under-funded, side-show? Perhaps in the medium term, Muir

agrees - but right now, the market needs the stimulus provided by

centres of excellence, especially if they know how to plug straight into

brand and account teams when the time is right.



Muir, who has a degree in politics, chooses as his analogy the Marxist

view of the State.



"It must be there initially as a strong entity, but eventually it will

wither away. At the moment it is right to have a specialist unit," he

insists.



FutureOgilvy's boss sees himself as "your classic generalist", a builder

of business models and a "leader of a special forces team". He has three

staff officers working to him, with two specialising in digital TV. Ian

Kenny, who has been with the agency since 1997 and worked on Unilever's

Creative Kitchen project, and Stuart Jackson, who is currently the head

of interactive television at Ogilvy Interactive. Jackson has more of a

media owner and platform background - he was previously director of

interactive at Discovery and, before that, Open's production manager.

Both become interactive television partners in futureOgilvy.



They will be joined by what Muir refers to as a "wireless wizard" - Neil

Wooding, who was the head of new media at Psion Computers before joining

Ogilvy. Wooding's job title is head of wireless.



Muir insists that futureOgilvy is not just about digital TV, especially

in the short term. And especially during a recession.



"It's all about evolving technologies. We're going to be more than a

one-trick pony. I think we'll see a lot of activity in the wireless

field. With TV there are significant investment costs, but in wireless

you can experiment without getting caned," he explains.



But still, this is all very risky isn't it? When you set up a specialist

unit, you not only create more overhead, but also a neatly packaged

target for the finance director, don't you?



Don't bet on it, argues Marcus Vinton, who recently left Ogilvy to

launch Spring, an interactive television specialist that is part of the

Bcom3 group. He says that interactive television is an idea whose time

has come, recession or no recession.



"As media fragments you either have the choice to spend more money or to

spend it in a different way, and the truth is that the interactive

television market has never been growing as fast as it is currently,"

Vinton says.



But one specialist company that has been forced to economise recently is

Quantum Media Services. Surely Mark Girling, the company's managing

director, would agree that this isn't the best time for ambitious new

launches? Well, not necessarily.



"Interestingly, the whole interactive TV agenda has perked up recently.

At a time when we're all aware of the limitations of the established

commercial television networks, people are realising that interactive

television has real opportunities to lead the market."



And of course, Muir agrees wholeheartedly: "This is a brilliant time to

launch. We will be well placed as the business really begins to build

next year. And we're lucky when it comes to the clients we work for.



"People in the advertising industry often imply that large advertisers

are basically boring and stupid but the reverse is almost always the

case.



They are well aware of the importance of developments in the digital

marketplace and the thing is that they are able to ring fence

development money."