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New Business Feature: Credentials, Please

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Brushed steel is nice. If that doesn't work, how about brass knuckles? In agency credentials kits, as in fashion, there is ample room for personal style.

In this third installment of Adweek's ongoing series on credentials kits, three agencies - Colby & Partners, The Richards Group and Wunderman - opt for pared-down fashions, believing that less is more. Colby's intent is to be perceived as approachable, intelligent and friendly; for Wunderman, elegance is a key virtue. And for Richards, a modest kit is a way to show that despite its size, it maintains an understated nature.

The other two shops have more ground to cover with their kits - and the materials reflect it. Modem Media devotes a portion of its package to explaining the virtues of interactive marketing generally - a step usually unnecessary for traditional agencies. Finally, Agent 16, the former Mezzina Brown, positions itself as a street-fighting agency with a kit that includes various thug-ware. Leave Agent 16 out of your review at your own risk. - Tim Nudd

Agent 16

"The essence of what street-fight marketing is about"

The Package
- Black leather booklet with case studies and "street-fighting" marketing tips
- Brick
- Brass knuckles
- CD-ROM of work

Agencies want their clients to kick ass. Few give them tools and instructions to do so literally.

When Mezzina Brown was reborn as Agent 16 in September, its principals chose to cast themselves as street-fighting teachers, ? la Mr. Miyagi. The new credentials kit they sent this fall to nearly 60 new-business consultants reflects this knock-down, drag-out mentality.

Inside a black safe box, a leather-bound book outlines three rules to follow. The first, "Shift the fight to a space you can control," is illustrated with a comic-book drawing of an "agent" dragging a competitor into an office. The second, "Think fast and exploit what you have at hand," shows a man firing staples into an opponent's coffee cup. The final rule, "Find the opening. Deliver the knockout punch," shows an operative pushing a foe backward over her partner's back.

"You don't always have months to plan out a new campaign," says new-business director Cheryl Benton. "It's really about being nimble, flexible, quick and integrated. ... [The kit] captures the essence of what street-fight marketing is about."

Case studies illustrate the advantages of the approach. Finlandia Vodka eschewed print, which Absolut had exploited to great effect, in favor of wireless marketing - a space it could control. Camel turned matchbooks into a form of pop entertainment. And Newsweek aimed to deliver the knockout punch with MediaBuzz, a site developed for media planners and buyers.

Agent 16 scored a small victory in October when it added the Brooklyn Navy Yard to its client list, which also includes Harper's Bazaar and Toshiba. And marketers who doubt the shop is out for blood, take note: The kit comes with a brick and brass knuckles. "They're actually paperweights," Benton says. Sure they are. - Deanna Zammit

Colby & Partners

"Approachable, intelligent and friendly"

The Package
- Gray-green spiral-bound book featuring agency philosophy, history, executive bios, clients, case studies and press clippings
- Booklet of print work
- Reel of TV work, with commentary by staffers

It's pretty simple," evp of business development Kim Haskell says of Colby & Partners' credentials kit. The agency's staffers examined questionnaires sent in the early stages of reviews by Select Resources International and other consultants, posed similar questions to themselves and tried to answer them in a "simple, easy way," says Haskell.

Peppered throughout the Dentsu shop's materials is the notion of "ownership advertising" - defined as a positioning, look, copy style or media approach that belongs to one client only. The kit also includes photos of key personnel, along with informal, tongue-in-cheek bios. The idea, says Haskell, is to convey that the shop is "approachable, intelligent and friendly" - words the agency's staffers settled on as core self-identifiers following an internal survey five years ago.

The video, which is eight to nine minutes long, is meant to demonstrate "the brains of the people working here," Haskell says. It opens with president and executive creative director Rick Colby discussing the ownership philosophy and features other staffers giving brief introductions to spots for Suzuki, VH1, California Pizza Kitchen, Bally Total Fitness, the California Avocado Commission, the Disney Channel, the Beverly Center and other clients.

The package is updated as the shop adds and loses clients and develops new case studies. One recent addition was a case study for Mervyn's.

The kit has performed well in getting the Santa Monica, Calif., agency into pitches - it made the finals this year in reviews for E*Trade, Broadcom Corp., Pressplay (now Napster), Activision and Carpet One. Wins included Chandon wines, Spike TV, Japan Airlines, Trinchero Family Estates' Sutter Home Winery and Gold's Gym. - Rebecca Flass

Modem Media

"We have to sell the medium first"

The Package
- Blue booklet outlining advantages of interactive as a medium and Modem as an agency
- Notebook with case studies, creative work
- Fact book outlining basic agency data
- CD-ROM of work

The dot-com dust has settled and the field has narrowed, but in interactive advertising, the challenge of separating oneself from every Tom, Dick and Harry may be greater today than it was four years ago. "Now we have to sell the medium first, before we sell Modem Media," says Peter Moritz, managing director of business development at the Norwalk, Conn., agency.

To do so, the i-shop sends out a 30-page booklet titled "Move Me."

It offers words of wisdom on the benefits of interactive ("If you're using the Internet mainly to advertise your company, you're not just missing the point. You're missing the whole opportunity") interspersed with examples of consumer commentary ("Don't just talk to me. Engage me. Help me. Satisfy me.").

The book also features "thought leadership" essays by agency principals, including founder and chairman G.M. O'Connell. They "demonstrate that we have a point of view on the impact and effectiveness of interactive marketing," says Moritz. "We still have to make that case in various organizations. So we establish ourselves as strategic thinkers, and the case studies bear that out."

A tab-divided spiral notebook contains those case studies, as well as creative work for clients such as Delta Air Lines, General Motors, Harrisdirect and Snickers, press clippings and executive bios. A CD-ROM also plays up creative.

A fact book provides the basics: history, awards, client and leadership information on the 16-year-old company. A press kit gives third-party validation, says Moritz. The shop also sends an annual report and "letter to shareholders" to purchasing departments or prospective clients who have inquired about the balance sheet. - Ann M. Mack

The Richards Group

"We are not for sale. Not now. Not ever"

The Package
- Black, red and white booklet featuring creative briefs and print work
- Black-and-white booklet outlining billings, agency structure and creative capabilities
- Reel of TV work

The Richards Group wants to be seen as intense and competitive but with a laid-back side. "We're a calm group of people, and I think the [credentials] packaging reflects our understated nature when it comes to building and maintaining relationships," says Diane Fannon, who handles new business for the agency.

Recipients of Richards' kit find, inside a black linen-lined box, a reel and two notebooks. One presents basic data, such as billings by medium, clients by billing size (six are more than $20 million; 17 are $1 million or less) and creative philosophy. Included in a three-paragraph background section is a claim that remains among the Dallas independent's most proud: "We are not for sale. Not now. Not ever. With no investors, shareholders or partners to answer to, we're never diverted from our focus on our work, our clients and our people." (To ensure continued independence, Stan Richards has set up an unusual succession plan in which his 100 percent ownership equity is to be donated to an as-yet-undisclosed charity.) The book also lists top creatives and account-management principals and how long they have been on board (the averages are 11 years and 13 years, respectively).

The other notebook, titled "A Study in the Peaceful Coexistence of Sound Strategy & Exceptional Execution," consists of 18 creative briefs, each of which includes a sample of print work. Fannon says the briefs are meant to highlight strategic abilities, which she says can get lost amid all the focus on Richards' creative work. "We wanted to make sure our work was put in context, so our potential clients can see, 'Here's the strategy, let's see how they executed it,' " she says. "It's not just creative in a vacuum."

Atop each brief is this line: "Warning: People don't like ads. People don't trust ads. People don't remember ads. How do we make sure this one will be different?" This touch is designed to emphasize that the creatives recognize they are not invited into people's homes and that they always keep the consumer in mind.

Fannon says the agency customizes about half the kits it sends out - sometimes sending an additional reel, changing the selection of briefs or adding extra material at a prospect's request.

In 2003, Richards was accepted into 16 pitches. It won seven. - Mindy Charski

Wunderman

"Intelligent, elegant and graceful"

The Package
- Brushed-steel box with two booklets: one featuring print and direct mail work, one outlining agency data, capabilities and case studies
- Reel of TV work

It may be better to look good than to feel good. But the folks at Wunderman apparently figure, why not do both?

"We're thoughtful, intelligent and care about aesthetics; the packaging [of the credentials kit] is intelligent, elegant and graceful, and that's how we want to appear to potential clients," says Joel Sobelson, chief creative at the New York-based direct marketing agency.

That simple elegance begins with the kit's container: a brushed-steel box that has a graphic display cut in the center, much like a picture frame. The cutout shows an image of a woman, with an arrow superimposed over her that points in the direction she is walking; text reads, "See where our thinking can take you."

Packaged inside are a reel and two booklets with steel covers and hinges. One booklet displays print ads and direct mail pieces for clients such as the Association of Certified Public Accountants, AT&T, Clairol, Citibank, IBM, Kraft and the 9/11 Children's Fund. The second booklet outlines agency statistics, capabilities and case studies. The reel features a number of direct response TV spots.

The 46-year-old, $1.5 billion WPP Group shop has used the metal box for two years, but the contents have evolved in that time. Originally, the examples of the print work were laminated and inserted without an accompanying explanation. "While they looked nice, the point of the creative - and thus its impact - was lost," Sobelson says. Ring binders allow for an explanation of the work and are easier to read, he notes.

Above all, it's about keeping it simple. "Agencies package themselves and make their stories more complicated than they need to be," Sobelson says. "We are what we are, and we don't want that to get in the way of the work."

- Kristen Rountree