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Agencies Of The Year: President's Award 1999 - Digitas

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David's Goliath
CEO David Kenny Charts a Global course for Digitas
The night before Digitas account director and Internet marketing expert Ruben Pinchanski was to present ideas for a new e-commerce site to Neiman-Marcus officials in Miami last year, he was caught in the elevator clad in cutoff shorts, a tank top and flip-flops. Juggling his notebook computer, paperwork and a Diet Coke, Pinchanski was horrified when several Neiman-Marcus executives, dressed in pinstripes and power ties, rode with him for several floors.
His fashion sense, however, didn't faze them.
More appropriately attired at the presentation the next day, Pinchanski explained to client officials how the site could help the fashion-challenged avoid similar miscues. They agreed. The Web site launched last fall, along with a national direct marketing and print campaign devised by Digitas.
The agency's top executives--a casual, relaxed but hard-charging group of managers in their 30s and 40s--rarely failed to sell clients on their ideas in 1999. The result? The shop added $400 million in billings. Overall, the agency delivered the most impressive performance in its 20-year history, meriting Adweek's President's Award, an honor recognizing outstanding business performance by an agency network, media agency, holding company or marketing services company.
Digitas grew about 45 percent to finish 1999 with estimated revenue of $180 million and billings in the $1.3 billion range. Agency duties are split between direct marketing and Internet services, with some traditional media advertising--mainly for global employment service Aquent Partners.
Along with Neiman-Marcus, Digitas gained new assignments from Amazon.com, American Electric Power, Aquent, Dell Computer, Delta Air Lines, Industry to Industry and Morgan Stanley.
Longtime client AT&T consolidated its interactive account and awarded more direct marketing chores to Digitas in the wake of its buyout of cable firm TCI.
Plus, General Motors' Oldsmobile division assigned the agency additional direct marketing and in-store assignments for various brands. Conversely, Digitas came up empty last summer when it made a surprise appearance in the review for Dell's mainstream advertising account. One of few setbacks.
At a recent meeting with Digitas officials at their Boston headquarters, CEO David Kenny, 38, quipped that nothing short of "world domination" would satisfy his lust for expansion. Working with founder Michael Bronner and president Kathy Biro, Kenny scripted a plan for aggressive growth designed to recast the shop from a regional direct mail powerhouse into a global high-tech force providing marketing strategy and executions at every point of contact between clients and customers.
1999 closed with a name change from Bronnercom to Digitas and a registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission for a proposed $200 million public offering expected in the next few months.
The firm intends to trade as DTAS on the Nasdaq exchange, but the SEC filing doesn't list how many shares will be offered or give a per-share price. Sources close to the situation have said an estimated 6-8 million shares will be offered at $20-25 per share.
In 1999, Digitas crafted several notable creative efforts in various media. The agency relaunched Aquent with playful black-and-white magazine spreads to target advertising and communications firms. For longtime client American Express, the agency helped design and implement a marketing campaign for the company's Blue credit card using both direct and online channels. The effort included a Web site (blue.com) and a live online "simulcast" of a concert in New York's Central Park.
Bronner, who formed the company in 1980 as a one-man, discount coupon-book operation while a student at Boston University, sold some 72 percent of Digitas to San Francisco investment firm Hellman & Friedman Partners for nearly $123 million in preparation for
the IPO. He then turned the chairmanship over to Kenny, although he remains a director. Bronner plans to launch e-commerce startup Lifetime Rewards.com.
The time has come, Bronner says, for the "next generation." K
Stats:
Billings: Up 45 percent to $1.3 billion (est.)
Revenue: Up 45 percent to $180 million (est.)
Win/Loss Pitch Ratio: 5 out of 6
Accounts Won*:
Amazon.com
American Electric Power
Aquent Partners
Dell Computer
Delta Air Lines
Industry to Industry
Morgan Stanley
Neiman-Marcus
Sears
Accounts Lost:
Sears
Highlights:
Changed name to Digitas from Bronnercom
Named presidents at all regional offices
Sold 72 percent of the company to Hellman & Friedman Partners for $123 million

*Accounts consist of direct, interactive and other types of marketing; media spending figures are not available.

Source: Adweek reports and Competitive Media Reportin