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Mississippi ad agency execs discuss trends, the economy and business, in general

Clients seek evolutionary marketing strategies

When the world`s largest soft-drink marketer began the process of selecting a new agency for its $350-million U.S. media account earlier this year, Madison Avenue advertisers quickly learned that Coca-Cola wanted its advertising dollars to work harder. In fact, Coca-Cola president and COO Steve Heyer told media executives that the pitch process should include much more than standard 30-second television spots. He wanted to hear a host of new marketing strategies.

Coca-Cola`s move is not unusual, said Danny Mitchell, CEO of Jackson-based GodwinGroup.

“Businesses are looking for ways to cut costs and operate more efficiently, and top-level executives, especially CEOs, have gotten much more involved in the company`s marketing,” he said. “I don`t know if it`s a result of what happened to corporations like WorldCom, Tyco or Enron, but many CEOs are asking more questions and looking for big ideas. They want to see the big picture, not just an ad. They want to be involved in product positioning, and to really understand how they’re doing against competitors in their category. And they’re looking for more real-time data than ever before to help make decisions.”

The sluggish economy, which many advertising executives concur is on the slow but steady upswing, has heightened competition among advertising agencies. Corporations are sensing the timing is right to shop around for new media representation, or to at least consider making a switch. Time Warner`s America Online recently put its $275-million media account up for review.

“In the last two or three years, consumer confidence has bounced up and down,” said Mitchell. “Events like 9/11 and fast-paced trends — the life expectancy of products is so much shorter now — have moved us into the direction of evolutionary marketing, where you don`t have an 18-month or five-year plan, but you depend more on day-to-day decisions made as the economy and consumer confidence evolves. Companies are embracing this concept.”

Consumer behavior during economic downturns

During recessionary times, consumers seek security, said Mitchell.

“They rush to brand,” he said. “You’d think consumers would rush to generic products, but they know what they can trust and the really good brands come out ahead.”

The economic climate has created opportunities to segment the market into more specific audiences with more targeted advertising messages, said Elizabeth Stephens, president of Liquid Creative in Jackson.

“These opportunities are continuing as the economy recovers and more marketing dollars are being budgeted,” she said. “The trend in market segmenting is continuing. Concentrating on segmented market areas has been profitable for clients and allows them to stretch their marketing dollars further.”

Marketing to consumers is definitely tougher during tough economic times, said Laura Hasty, president of the Biloxi-based advertising agency, The Ad Group.

“Businesses must remember they have to continue to advertise and keep top-of-mind-awareness out there,” she said.

Smart marketing can provide the competitive edge in any economy, said Jack Garner, president of The Ramey Agency in Jackson.

“An emphasis on good, strategic marketing during tougher economic times is more important than at any other time,” he said. “If an agency has done its job right, the client understands and sees the direct correlation between their marketing efforts and their bottom line.”

The bottom line

“Business in general is very good,” said Mitchell. “Different types of clients have different needs so we get requests of full rounded campaigns covering all mediums, as well as collateral type work such as brochures, annual reports and direct mail. The one common thread is that they all want us to formulate a plan of action for them for the upcoming year to establish direction and to make sure campaigns are in place to meet the goals they have set for their companies.”

The Ramey Agency`s business is better than ever, said Garner.

“We’ve continued to experience steady growth over the last three years,” he said. “We are blessed with blue chip clients who understand how to adjust their strategies to take advantage of changing opportunities in the marketplace. We’ve also been successful in developing relationships with a number of excellent new clients. We seem to be on a roll, and that`s a great place to be.”

During the past two years, West Point-based Quest Marketing has experienced such significant growth that an office was recently established in Jackson, said agency owner Cindy Hodo.

“Not only are clients participating in the traditional forms of advertising, but they are also open to new ideas in marketing and public relations,” she said. “Buzz marketing gets results with the younger generation. We’ve seen the focus change toward more public relations and marketing efforts, in particular with sales and training utilizing CD Rom and DVD presentations, and the use of interactive marketing.”

In-house vs. contract

“The amount of in-house advertising that is done by our clients varies,” said Garner. “I’m not aware of any perceivable shift of it becoming more or less prevalent. Most of our clients look to us for strategic planning and creative execution. There are, however, some situations where responsibilities are shared between a client and us. In those cases, our objective is to make certain that all efforts complement and support the overall goal of the client.”

Some businesses believe they can save money by handling certain aspects of their advertising themselves, such as media buying and printing, said Hasty.

“This can be quite costly if the person handling these for a business is not qualified,” she said. “An advertising agency specializes in saving businesses money on most services, thus the business will have more money for advertising and continue to grow.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.


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