Bridging the Gap1 Sep, 2009 By: Bridget McCrea Response
Bridging the Gap
A few months ago, Mal Karlin's New York-based DR agency was hired by a general advertising firm to handle the direct response aspect of a client's campaign. Working with both the general agency and the insurance company that requested a DR component be included in its advertising efforts, Karlin + Pimsler Inc. created a campaign that produced good results for the marketer and very few headaches for the boutique firm doing the direct response work.
Not all collaborations go so smoothly, says Karlin, president and CEO. "Many times you're working with agencies that don't understand direct response and the fact that it's part creative, part engineering and architecture," he explains. "DR is about constructing a TV commercial that includes a call-to-action and phone number or URL that's well-developed and appropriately placed. Not everyone is aware of that."
The sales component of a DR spot is another important aspect that general agencies tend to overlook, says Karlin, who himself has years of general agency experience and understands both sides of the fence. "Whereas general agency work was about throwing things out there to see if they would stick," he explains, "DRTV is about accountability to the client. Everything we do as an agency is accountable."
Into the Blender
DRTV and brand advertising formerly sat on two different sides of the fence, with "never the twain shall meet" being the general rule. The lines have blurred in recent years, with many brand advertisers "crossing over" to a medium that's not only accountable, but that has proven itself to be an effective sales channel. Direct response is even more compelling because media buyers have access to more affordable avails.
"Direct response is no longer a dirty word in the advertising world. Now, hybrid is the buzzword," says Barry Jacobs, vice president at Santa Monica, Calif.-based Mercury Media. "Marketers realize that using DR in conjunction with a URL or 800 number puts them in a different category that allows them to purchase and/or negotiate for less expensive remnant time."
The Web has also helped to break down the walls between general agencies and DR work. With more companies including their Web sites as part of their initial branding efforts, says Jacobs, advertising strategies have been shifting to more accountable methods. "Advertisers used to purchase media strictly on a cost-per-point or cost-per-thousand basis," he says, "but now they want ROI. They want to be able to measure what they're doing, and the simplest way to get there is with Web hits or 800 numbers."
Some general agencies have successfully merged work with DR agencies for the good of the client, but according to Tim Hawthorne, clients continue to be protective of their big-budget, image-based creative campaigns that "win awards and put big dollars" in the agency's pockets.
"The general agencies are loath to see this business diminish or disappear; the margins are too rich, the creative too fun and the results too unaccountable," says Hawthorne, chairman and executive creative director at Hawthorne Direct in Fairfield, Iowa, and a member of the Response Editorial Advisory Board. On the other hand, he notes, brand advertisers are continually under pressure to create more accountable ad work, whether on the Internet or TV.
"As a result, general agencies are being forced to create more 'soft-offer' campaigns (such as URL listings and/or coupon offerings) while DR agencies are doing the same," adds Hawthorne. "General agency and DR agency work, to some extent, is converging, with both getting more work that's mid-point on the spectrum between image/soft sell and response/hard sell."
Hawthorne says his firm has worked with a dozen general advertising agencies over the years, and all collaborations have been predicated on the general agency allowing the DR specialists to practice their specialty unhindered. Most top DR agencies understand how to read a brand book, protect brand equity and create good-looking work that generates response, he says, but getting there usually requires the DR agency to spend some time educating the brand marketer and general agency on response expectations.
"The most critical axiom to communicate is, 'the harder the sell, the greater the response,'" says Hawthorne. "We have to educate them on the fact that they can't expect thousands of phone calls and Web hits from a soft offer."