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Hook Media to Close in Atlanta

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Hook Media, the interactive media agency, is closing its Atlanta outpost and is considering staff cutbacks in other offices, sources said.

Caroline Ernst, an agency principal here, referred calls to Don Epperson, president and co-founder of the Boston-based independent shop.

Ten Atlanta staffers were advised they were being let go and offered a two-week severance package, sources said.

Hook Media's Southeastern satellite had barely been in operation six months when, in the midst of the continuing dot-com meltdown, Epperson was forced to pull the plug.

At press time, sources suggested that the latest round of cuts would extend to Hook Media's Boston headquarters.

"There are not a lot of opportunities out there if these people want to stay in the interactive world," said Amy Hoover, vice president of recruiting at Talent Zoo, the Atlanta-based ad-vertising search firm. "If they're willing to go back to traditional marketing, they'd have a better time."

Ernst is a typical example. Described by Hoover as talented and hypermotivated, she came to Atlanta six months ago to head Hook Media's operations and now finds herself unemployed.

Ironically, last September, Ep-person heralded the arrival of managing principal Mary Ellen Barto (a 13-year Ogilvy & Mather veteran) and Ernst with a promise to "throw up a billboard and get some buzz."

Ernst was a director at the Family Education Network in San Francisco, where she managed interactive campaigns, oversaw customer acquisition and retention programs, and built brand awareness. Earlier in her career she supervised a$7 million online ad campaign for eight educational Web sites.

"Like everyone else, she's reeling," said Hoover. "Ernst is a stranger in a city where she doesn't have years and years of contacts."

Founded in 1998, Hook Media specializes in interactive media planning, placement, tracking and reporting for clients that include Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts and New York's PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

The Atlanta agency was described by supporters as "a shop that defined digital media."

Hook Media's problems are familiar. A dot-com storm blew through Atlanta last month leaving scores of staffers at The Voltage Factory, 360i, marchFirst and other interactive shops out in the cold.