Field Reports: From Rocket Science to Atomic Direct1 Oct, 2002 By: Thomas Haire Response
Doug Garnett started Atomic Direct, a direct response advertising agency in Portland, Ore., in 1998 after a five-year stint at Tyee, where he served as vice president of strategy and account director. Atomic has worked with The Sharper Image, Newell Rubbermaid and TriStar Productions on DRTV campaigns. Recently, Response was able to chat with Garnett about his success in the DRTV business.
Response: How did you get into the direct response industry?
Doug Garnett: I was a rocket scientist! I'm not kidding. I went to U.C. San Diego and started out as a music major, but ended up getting a masters in applied math, which got me into General Dynamics as a rocket scientist. I also sold supercomputers for a number of years - that's where I got my training in sales and international marketing strategy. I was hired by Tyee in 1993 as vice president of strategy, working on strategic services, consumer research, financials and product marketing planning. I also served as an account director in high-level management and did some executive producer work.
Response: What did you do for your clients at Tyee?
Garnett: I worked with AT&T Wireless, Hamilton Beach, Braun, Sears, Sonicware Toothbrush, Wearever Cookware and CSA Autobike, among others. We worked with clients on just what they needed to do better in a direct response forum. This industry, generally, was not offering corporate clients what they needed. It seemed like there were only two options coming from agencies at the time: yell-and-sell or beautiful filmwork. Corporate clients can't risk the yell-and-sell strategy and most of the beautiful looking shows offered little salesmanship.
Response: So you struck out on your own to offer something different?
Garnett: I didn't think it was impossible to produce good-looking shows that also sold product. We wanted to take a new approach - to find a "third way." And at the same time, we wanted to find some new ground in including strategic research. I asked myself, "How can I use the research information I can come up with to support corporate clients?" We still do a lot of research today on how infomercials affect viewers' perceptions and not just in sales numbers.
Response: And you've kept Atomic as a very tight group over the years?
Garnett: We started in 1998. I'm founder, president and CEO. Today, we still have just four employees. I run the business out of my home - in a 1,500-square-foot daylight basement. It's a great working environment. You know, infomercials are more difficult to produce than other ads. You have to remain very involved with the product. That's why we've kept the staff small and do about two or three infomercials a year. It keeps our involvement level high - we don't hand anything off.
Response: Do you still believe that your in-depth involvement and research is the basis for a successful infomercial?
Garnett: I believe in understanding your prospect before you start your project. We believe in a very savvy form of research - it's very rare for us to start without any research. When it's done well, we begin the project totally focused on the prospect. So many times, clients have said to us, "I'm so glad we knew exactly who we wanted [as prospects]." We get clients the most for their money - we use all the latest technology, including digital video. It's cheaper and easier in some ways.
Response: Would you say then that your business is totally focused on the client?
Garnett: I'm a marketing guy and a salesman. I'm not in the business for creative awards. I'm in it to help clients build their businesses - I want to figure out how I utilize the best information to help my clients. Direct response should be all about the client's business. We do just two things at Atomic - develop and manage infomercials.