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Selling clients on the Web’s value

Feb 26, 2001  •  Post A Comment

When it comes to advertising, the Internet is still a scary place for some companies. They have trepidation about how they can reach target customers in cyberspace. They aren’t sure how to find out who’s using the Web and what sites those people are visiting. And from the outset, they have their doubts about the very idea of online advertising-does it work or not?
These are the fears that Mark Stephens, director of media services for San Francisco-based Lot21 Productions, aims to help his clients overcome. “Habits are starting to change as Web access becomes more ubiquitous,” he said. “You’re talking about a critical mass in the digital space, and today more traditional companies are coming into it. The real challenge is making the space more palatable for traditional customers.”
Mr. Stephens, 41, begins each day by getting his young son off to school, then he shoots across the San Francisco Bay via subway before jumping on his Razor scooter for the surface-street cruise to his downtown office. After more than 15 years in the so-called traditional advertising business and just two years into his tenure at Lot21, Mr. Stephens is already making waves in the digital realm.
Mr. Stephens has a knack for making his clients feel at ease with his cutting-edge ideas. One of his most significant accomplishments at Lot21 has been his ability to secure pioneering wireless advertising placements for clients, including CNET and Intraware.
For Intraware, he was responsible for the placement of wireless ads on the gateway page of AvantGo, a provider of infrastructure software and services that enable customers to access Internet content and Web-based applications through cellphones and other wireless devices.
At the time, no ad-serving party had wireless capabilities, so Mr. Stephens worked directly with AvantGo’s marketing team to make his ad vision happen.
The ad enabled users to click-through for information on how to sign up online to use Intraware’s services. The campaign received the highest return on investment the agency has seen yet-and it reduced Intraware’s customer acquisition costs by 90 percent.
“That campaign in some ways was risky but was perfectly suited to our target audience,” said Rudi O’Meara, art director for Intraware. “It took Mark’s overall and deep understanding of the industry in general to get it sold internally. It was our first wireless campaign, and it was hugely successful.”
Lot21 implemented a similar program for CNET, placing the first wireless ads using color support for Palms and Windows CE devices.
“I wish I could tell you all our clients come to us with [a] wireless perspective, but most are coming to us with the idea that the Internet space is oriented toward banners and e-mails,” Mr. Stephens said. “We need them to understand that it’s more about engaging a dialogue.”
Mr. Stephens has overseen advertising strategy, planning and placement for a variety of clients, ranging from banking to the high-tech industry. In 1980, the then-Amherst College student took an internship with Young & Rubicam in New York, where he was bitten by the advertising bug. After his 1981 graduation, Mr. Stephens went to work for Y&R.
Next, Mr. Stephens headed to his home city of Chicago to pursue an MBA at the University of Chicago. After he completed the program in 1984, he worked for McCann-Erickson Worldwide in San Francisco, buying ad space for clients such as PG&E, Wells Fargo and Del Monte. He spent eight years working for Transphere International (now Publicis Technology) in San Francisco on campaigns for Fujitsu Microelectronics, Cadence Design Systems, Conner Peripherals, Adaptec and Media Vision.
Later, Mr. Stephens moved to Euro RSCG DSW Partners in Salt Lake City. As vice president and group media director he led media services and established identities for Intel Corp., InFocus, Iomega and Minolta Peripheral Products. While at that ad agency Mr. Stephens was responsible for designing such successful branding campaigns as the “Intel Inside BunnyPeople” and “Iomega. Because It’s Your Stuff.” In early 1999, he moved to Lot21, which gave him a place to apply the knowledge he had gleaned during the years he spent in the traditional advertising world to the fresh, new, digital universe.
Founded as a full-service interactive advertising agency in 1998, Lot21 was named Agency of the Year in 1999 by the Internet Advertising Bureau and has won other accolades. The company has gotten a reputation for being on the cutting-edge of new media. And when they get a good idea, they proselytize.
“We innovate on behalf of the industry,” Mr. Stephens said. “We’re working with relatively standard units. But we are really playing around with the way they pop up, where they pop up. The marketplace is looking for answers in terms of ad units. Costs have come down, and as a media buyer I find that appealing, but then the inventory isn’t very good.”
Mr. Stephens said his goals for 2001 include rolling out a variety of different ad units. “The dynamic has changed from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market. So we’re now rolling out more effective, larger, richer, more intrusive ads, with a big focus on retention marketing and customer relationship management. One of the nice things about the digital space is you have the ability to insert ad messages at very key touch points, such as gas station pumps, ATMs and elevators.”
He isn’t terribly concerned about last year’s Internet shakeout in terms of hurting business. Said Mr. Stephens, “I think it’s a really good thing, and it’s been a long time coming. It has forced a lot of sites to rethink their business plans. I think the players that are left will be that much stronger. The marketplace is starting to shift back to the companies that have real money.
“My vision was always that digital marketing was going to be center of [the] marketing universe. Lots of companies have looked at online marketing as just another quill-but I believe understanding the digital world is more important than that.”