Bronner Goes Back to School

UPromise Venture Is Designed to Help Families Afford College
BOSTON–To help families save for their children’s educations, Michael Bronner devised UPromise, a program designed to generate millions of dollars in college savings.
Bronner, the founder and former chief executive of relationship marketing firm Digitas, publicly launched UPromise, Brookline, Mass., on Wednesday after months of speculation about the nature of the firm and conflicting reports about its name.
“I decided to do something that would make a difference,” said Bronner, who two years ago sold his majority stake in Digitas to San Francisco investment firm Hellman & Friedman for $123 million. “I’m passionate about higher education,” Bronner said, and he intends “to make it possible for more kids to go to college” through UPromise.
The program will allow consumers who register online, free of charge, to buy goods and services from partner firms, and rebates will be deposited directly into tax-deferred college savings accounts.
“You absolutely get the best price. You shop the way you normally shop,” Bronner said.
Several “number one or number two” players in the automotive, retail and telecommunications sectors are currently aboard, with more ex-pected before UPromise goes live in the fall, Bronner said.
He would not name specific partners and also declined to discuss the fee-based structure for corporate participation.
Bronner bristled at the suggestion that UPromise may be perceived as simply one more brand loyalty program. “This is pretty radical and revolutionary,” he said. “It will enable families to harness their everyday spending” in a new way to benefit the younger generation. UPromise has been set up as a privately held, for-profit company. Bronner has also established an affiliated not-for-profit educational foundation to award scholarships to young people in need, he said.
New York agency McCann-Erickson is charged with devising a nationwide launch campaign for the startup, working with UPromise official Gordon Bowen, a creative director who in the past has crafted campaigns for American Express and AT&T. Spending for that effort will be in the $30 million range [Adweek, June 19].
Bronner is chairman and chief executive of UPromise. Jeff Bussgang is president and chief operating officer; and Judy Fearing, formerly top marketer for Walt Disney Co.’s Go.com, is chief marketing officer. K