Inside the Mix

UK direct marketing boutique has to alter its pitch in order to launch in scale-focused US

UK direct marketing boutique has to alter its pitch in order to launch in scale-focused US

There were two kinds of stories I loved to cover when I was a reporter for the direct marketing industry in late '90s London.

The first kind was when a handful of high-profile agency types - both creatives and "suits" - quit their big direct marketing agencies and formed a small boutique, often backed by a major holding company that knew that size wasn't everything and talent was. The other kind was the launch of a really interesting campaign from one of these shops or their larger counterparts.

The latter story was always a more challenging one to cover, as it involved persuading my colleagues, who wrote about traditional television and print advertising, that below-the-line work was just as interesting as a great TV ad, and sometimes more so, as it was frequently more tightly targeted and was often part of a larger initiative whose separate components weren't always obvious at first look.

I loved receiving packages from these agencies containing their latest efforts - a direct mail piece, some beer mats, maybe some direct-response print advertising, and if it were a particularly brave campaign, an outline of an intended ambush of a rival's outdoor advertising space via a cool guerrilla marketing tactic and mock-ups of an ad to be displayed on the side of a few cows.

That's what direct marketing was to me, and that is why I advocated vociferously for each interesting campaign's inclusion in the publication I wrote for. And it wasn't just that I was seeing the cream of the crop; I'd also get this stuff in the mail at home - not as a direct marketing journalist, but as a regular customer.

Five years after moving to New York, I'm still waiting for the interesting, creative stuff to arrive at my apartment. That's not to say it doesn't exist, but it's far less prevalent, perhaps due to the fact that scale here is a far greater issue, and so the focus of agencies is more on watertight implementation than it is on creative awards.

Going back to the first kind of story I liked to cover, a breakout from a giant direct marketing and sales promotion agency then owned by Publicis Groupe launched in 1999, Iris - one of many creative breakouts at the time. The agency is launching in New York now, and it was interesting to look at the challenge of opening a creative direct marketing agency in a market in which that's far less common.

The challenge is exacerbated by the fact that, while Iris has developed in the UK market into an agency that's earned the right to call itself media-neutral, that's a catch-all term here that agencies of all ilk try to use, and it is met with skepticism until there is a good body of work behind it to prove that true.

Iris' partners know these challenges and to a certain extent plan to use their roots in direct marketing and sales promotion as a Trojan horse. One interesting thing it is doing, however, is embarking upon an extensive research project of "Youth at 30," studying the market it's entering into in order to both furnish the agency with vital market intelligence and show potential clients that it, like the best creative direct marketing agencies, does nothing that isn't based in solid research - even if it does end up on the side of a cow.

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