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Direct-Response Advertising Finally Wins Some Respect

Jan 6, 2009  •  Post A Comment

With media under pressure in a challenged economy, people with knowledge of direct-response advertising are getting some respect.
Case in point: Lynn Fantom, CEO of Interpublic Group’s ID Media, a division of Mediabrands that specializes in direct response.
“The [broadcast media buyers] who get all the Super Bowl tickets are definitely calling us now, because clients are worried and they want to be paying the right price to get the right return,” Ms. Fantom said.
She was just invited to participate in a new-business pitch by a sister Interpublic agency even though direct response, or DR, wasn’t on the prospective client’s agenda. The agency “thought DR TV today is a very important part of the mix,” she said.
The hotshots in digital media are also listening to Ms. Fantom and her colleagues.
“They want to know everything that we’ve learned in direct mail and DR TV and even [free-standing inserts], because what you do online is playing the DR game on steroids, but the principles are the one we’ve been practicing for decades,” she said.
When times are tough, marketers increase their focus on what works and what doesn’t.
“They’re really firing up the R in the ROI, but making sure you’re spending what you have to spend to reach the audience,” she said. “And they’re listening to me these days, so that’s cool.”
According to Nielsen, direct-response advertisers increased their spending over the course of the first nine months of 2008 by 27%. Ms. Fantom said much of what the services track in DR are the “slicers and dicers” who sell gadgets on late-night TV. But her agency also has seen a big increase in direct-marketing billings from its mainstream clients such as American Express, Johnson & Johnson and Verizon.
“What we’re about is moving consumers from brand awareness to brand action, and they’re certainly interested in having positive values in the marketplace, but it’s more about getting a coupon download, getting people into the restaurant, having them say, ‘Yes, sign me up for the triple-play package,’” she said.
There’s another reason why direct response is becoming more attractive on TV: Clients often pay much lower rates for DR spots than traditional spots. The catch is that DR spots don’t get booked until traditional advertisers have had a chance to buy them.
“It’s a very dynamic marketplace,” she said.
Ms. Fantom found her way into the direct marketing world through her second job after graduating magna cum laude from Smith College, where she majored in Latin and Greek.
Her first job was reading unsolicited manuscripts for publisher Little, Brown in Boston.
“Since I didn’t have a trust fund, I couldn’t make it on $90 a week,” she said, explaining how she came to work for Factory Mutual Insurance.
The insurance company regularly sent out packages to the people it insured, asking them to sign up for new programs. She would get the cards back, check out the replies and even study the handwriting.
“It was the early days of consumer engagement, and after that I was smitten,” she says. “For a long time people tried to woo me over to the brand side, but I’ve always loved this concept of targeting and getting a response and being able to measure it.”
She’s champing at the bit for the next phase of direct response on TV when the medium really goes interactive.
Ms. Fantom gets a kick out of the fact that two of her ex-bosses, both now with interactive technology firms, called on her recently: Former Initiative CEO Alec Gerster, now with Navic, and former Interpublic Media CEO Mark Rosenthal.
Ms. Fantom grew up in Brockton, Mass., a small town where she attended high school with just 70 kids.
Despite moving to take jobs in Chicago, Minneapolis and finally New York, she says she’s still a New Englander at heart and keeps a weekend house in Maine, where she enjoys hiking, kayaking and bicycling.
Continuing in her family’s New England tradition, Ms. Fantom’s daughter was just accepted at Dartmouth.
But she spent the holiday season in New York acting like a tourist, going to Broadway shows, watching the Alvin Ailey Dance Company and dining on seafood in Chinatown.
Who Knew: Ms. Fantom is a blogger, extolling the virtues of the Acadia National Park area in Maine at www.ouracadia.com. “It takes me eight hours to drive up there, but it’s the most beautiful place,” she said. She can talk for half an hour at a time about subjects like lobster or kayaking, “so I decided to blog.” The site will be taking advertising, which makes her a bit of an entrepreneur, she added.

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