Integrated Agency of the Year: iDeutsch

A few months before the April launch of an ambitious new calling plan, MCI director of marketing communications Melissa Parisi phoned Deutsch svp, director of business development Michael Duda about an interactive and direct marketing assignment. The year before, the New York shop had pitched the telecom’s residential long-distance account. Though the late-2000 review was aborted, the memory of Deutsch’s integrated presentation stuck. “What was most impressive was the agency’s ability to create an integrated effort that included advertising, direct marketing and interactive,” recalls Parisi.

Last January, Parisi, MCI president Wayne Huyard and other senior managers traveled to Deutsch’s Manhattan headquarters to brief the shop on “The Neighborhood,” a new phone service that would offer unlimited nationwide calling for a monthly flat rate. The client, which until then had used i-shops on an ad hoc basis, wanted to secure iDeutsch and directDeutsch for the campaign. “I said, ‘We’re most interested in having you look at interactive and direct marketing. Beyond that, we’re not sure,'” says Parisi.

Three weeks later, agency CEO Donny Deutsch and his partners—including Fred Rubin, director of iDeutsch and directDeutsch, and Bobbi Casey-Howell, director of customer and data strategy—returned with a multidisciplinary brand campaign. MCI was sold.

The Ashburn, Va.-based company shifted its $100 million branded business to Deutsch from longtime roster shop Euro RSCG MVBMS Partners. “On the strength of that presentation, it was clear that the most effective way to launch The Neighborhood was in an integrated fashion,” says Parisi.

In an industry where online advertising is often an afterthought, it’s unusual for an interactive unit to be an agency’s foot in the door. “At some places, the agency would say, ‘The pitch is in three days, do you have something neat that’s interactive?'” says Rubin, who came to iDeutsch in 2000 with an extensive interactive, direct and traditional background.

That’s not the case at Deutsch.

“From that first time Mike Duda gets that call, we are in that meeting,” says Rubin. “Every business we pitch, Bobbi [Casey-Howell] and I play a huge role. You can’t touch a pharmaceutical pitch without considering the role of the Web, of Internet advertising.”

If Interpublic Group’s Deutsch was the center, iDeutsch and directDeutsch were the wings that assisted in the late 2002 Novartis hat trick, which scored the agency Diovan, Zelnorm and Lamisil. Also last year, the i-shop helped introduce Pfizer’s Zoloft as a treatment for premenstrual dysphoric disorder through a Web site that explores the warning signs, and banner ads that use a calendar motif to illustrate days lost and events missed due to the symptoms.

“When you show them all the pieces, it becomes a huge idea,” explains Rubin. “It’s no longer just two-dimensional with the storyboard and ripomatics. It becomes three-dimensional when you show them how it works on the Web and interactive advertising. It’s hard to disaggregate.”

Rubin acknowledges that being a part of an agency that continues to post significant year-over-year gains in a down economy is clearly an advantage for iDeutsch, which shares 90 percent of its business with the main shop. And with one profit center, squabbles between sibling units over how a client’s budget should be split are kept to a minimum.

Still, the interactive unit does not rest on the laurels of its parent. “You take iDeutsch and separate it from Papa Deutsch and we can compete against any interactive agency,” Rubin says. In 2002, the interactive team in New York snagged duties from J.P. Morgan Chase following a review that included 10 other shops. Los Angeles landed Internet-only assignments from FX network and software-developer Discreet, both after reviews.

As a result of the individual and joint wins, iDeutsch, Adweek IQ’s integrated interactive agency of the year, enjoyed a 34 percent rise in revenue to $38 million in 2002. Despite the fact that interactive revenues represent just 14 percent of Deutsch’s $272 million overall revenue, the value of the shop’s Internet arm should not be underestimated, says Josh Rose, svp and director of iDeutsch/LA.

“On any given media budget, we may be anywhere from one percent to 10 percent of that budget. That doesn’t necessarily translate to ‘We’re 10 percent of the reason that Deutsch is a successful agency,'” explains Rose, who joined the West Coast office just over a year ago from Ground Swell in Los Angeles. “We’re another seat at the table. When you sit around the table, we don’t care where the good ideas come from.”

Rose and his group are generating ideas to reinvigorate the primarily promotional Internet presence of Coors Light, which awarded Deutsch/LA a piece of its $200 million business last summer. Though the brewer spends the bulk of its budget offline, it recognizes that in order to reach its 21- to 29-year-old male audience, a portion has to be dedicated to online efforts. “Their demographic, their target, is the Internet audience,” says Rose, who has met with Coors Light executives from chief marketing officer Ron Askew on down.

On the opposite coast, iDeutsch svp, creative director Ingrid Bernstein is gearing up for an online promotion for Snapple. Her team is shooting to one-up last year’s “What’s Your Story?” contest, which resulted in more than 25,000 people submitting their real-life stories online for the chance to have it reenacted by anthropomorphized Snapple bottles in a TV spot.

The promotion coincided with the re-launch of the beverage marketer’s Web site. Aimed at 18- to 24-year-olds, the site portrays the life of people in “Snappleton.” As Web surfers roll their mouse over citizens of Snappleton, bubbles pop up that tell their stories. The offline ads are woven into the site’s content; for instance, TV spots and the outdoor ads can be viewed at the Snaplex Cinema and Bob’s Hall of Snapple. After the site redesign, traffic increased 34 percent, helped in part by an integrated push that included TV spots, online marketing and call-to-action on the bottle caps.

“The site has the same look and feel in terms of brand experience. We were executing off the positioning of ‘Real Experiences,’ but not off the campaign,” says Bernstein, who came on board in 1998 to run IKEA’s online business. “[The Snappleton characters] add this incredibly rich layer to the visual aspect of the site and give it this deep personality.”

When MCI launched its new local and long-distance service last April, Deutsch’s integrated campaign, based on the idea of freedom of speech, closely resembled what it had pitched just a few months earlier. In the tone of political slogans, the ads proposed that all words are equal and should cost the same (over the phone) regardless of the location or time of day. The Web site and online ads from iDeutsch continued the campaign’s expansive rhetoric and emphasis on no hidden costs and full disclosure. The site also offered state-specific pricing plans and the ability to spread the word about the program via e-mail. Though MCI won’t disclose sales figures, online sales exceeded expectations, according to Jill Chaze, senior manager of online marketing at MCI. “We have very aggressive timelines and we’re constantly updating our site,” says Chaze. “With iDeutsch, all hands are always on deck.”

As iDeutsch nears its seventh birthday, thinking about the Internet’s role in an overall marketing plan is becoming second nature to the agency at large. The distinction between the disciplines is becoming increasingly indistinct. “Our clients sometimes can’t tell the interactive from the general,” says Casey-Howell, who joined Deutsch from Rapp Collins in New York nearly seven years ago to start the direct unit.

Zach Korman, Matt Nuzzi and Larry David, the creative trio behind Snappleton, collaborate with Scott Bassen and David Rosen, the associate creative directors on the general side. Rose coordinates efforts on Coors Light, J.D. Edwards and the California Milk Advisory Board with Deutsch/LA’s managing partner, executive creative director Eric Hirshberg and managing partner, general manager Mike Sheldon. And this week, Rubin and Casey-Howell will work well into the night at six new-business meetings alongside partner, chief media officer Peter Gardiner and managing partners Kathy Delaney, executive creative director; Val DiFebo, director of client services; and Cheryl Greene, chief strategy officer.

“What has happened is that you can’t separate Deutsch from iDeutsch or directDeutsch,” says Rubin. “Clients are hiring us not for the great ad they saw, but because of the bigness of the idea and how it informs and drives all of these channels. We’re an integral part.”