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As the direct marketing industry has grown, so have direct marketing agencies. Today, nearly every major advertising agency has acquired or formed a direct response division. General agencies that do not have subsidiaries are "integrating" direct marketing by hiring specialists to assist on general accounts. In addition, there are hundreds of independent agencies. The top fifty agencies and their billings are listed in appendix B.

On the whole, direct marketing agencies are organized like general advertising agencies. There are account executives, creative's, and media people but their functions and emphases are somewhat different. In general agencies, big clients spend money on image and awareness in an attempt to create a rosy long-term sales trend. But direct marketing campaigns are structured to elicit an immediate response-an order, a purchase, a sale, or an inquiry and follow up on that response with a new offer, thereby building a relationship between customer and direct marketer. This focus on measurable response and an ongoing relationship influences the thrust of every procedure, from designing and writing space ads and direct mail packages to purchasing media.

Some direct response agencies will handle a client's direct marketing business only, taking a pass on general advertising assignments. The largest agencies and networks try to keep client work in the family, dividing assignments between their general agencies and their direct response subsidiaries. Smaller agencies may specialize in a certain segment of direct marketing, such as business-to-business direct marketing, catalog marketing, broadcast direct marketing, or fund-raising.

In this chapter, we'll look at the job opportunities in direct response agencies, and then take a close look at three quite distinct agencies: Ogilvy & Mather Direct, Leo Burnett USA, and The Townsend Agency.


Account services or account management personnel take primary responsibility for the relationship between the agency and its clients. Success in this area requires a unique blend of talents:
  • A keen grasp of marketing strategy and a sincere interest in helping a client's business grow
  • A willingness to live, breathe, and understand a client's business, inside and out
  • An ability to sensitively prevent or resolve misunderstandings between the client and members of the agency team
  • Strong negotiation and presentation skills, often developed through sales experience
  • A gift for tracking and tending to details
  • Solid quantitative skills that can be used to "work the numbers," and a facility for understanding the significance of results
These talents are called on daily, as members of account services help develop the client's marketing strategy, and coordinate the many agency departments involved in creating and implementing a direct response program.

Job titles within account services sound similar but have distinct responsibilities. At the top of the pile is one or more vice president of account services or director of client services, who oversees account supervisors and makes sure that all accounts are running smoothly, that the workload is distributed evenly, and that agency profit goals are being met. The vice president of account services also participates in presentations to potential new clients.

Account supervisors have management and strategic responsibility for one or more accounts. They pinpoint client problems, pull together the people and meetings needed to solve them, and keep an eye out for new business opportunities that might develop in existing accounts. They have profit responsibility for their accounts, and participate in agency management matters as well as new business presentations.
  • Account executives play a more tactical role on their accounts. Experts in how to get things done in the agency, account executives make sure creatives, production people, and other departments are contributing their best to their accounts. They participate in or lead proposal presentations to client contacts on their accounts. Other responsibilities include

  • Estimating a project's cost, and preparing the estimate for client review.

  • When a client is printing a piece, setting up meetings with client vendors to make sure production goes smoothly.
  • Working with clients to get response figures (not always easy, as clients may not be willing to share response figures, or may only release partial figures).
The entry-level position in account services is associate account executive. At The Tbwnsend Agency, profiled later in this chapter, an associate account executive supports the rest of account services by
  • Scheduling projects from their conception through the mail or broadcast date.

  • Taking notes on the creative strategy, and reviewing it with creative staff.

  • Assisting the agency team in presenting a proposal to the client, and occasionally handling the presentation of a single component of the project, such as a buck slip or an insert.

  • Taking notes during all client meetings, and preparing and distributing the Client Conference Report, which recapitulates all decisions made in the meeting.

  • Keeping in touch with the client for missing information, creative elements, and so on, and routing all versions of art and copy past the client for approval.

  • Working with the traffic coordinator to make sure the project is on schedule.

  • Making sure mailing lists, magnetic tapes, postage check, and other elements of the mailing process are in order so that the mailing deadline can be met.

  • Preparing client invoices.
The associate account executive may also go on press checks and photo shoots, research mailing lists, and prepare sample books for clients.

Aspiring associate account executives should have a bachelor's degree in business administration, communications, or advertising; at least a year of agency experience; and extremely strong organization and communication skills.

Entry-level opportunities abound in Traffic, which can be a terrific place to learn the agency business.

The traffic coordinator is responsible for coordinating the component parts of a direct marketing project within the agency. Traffic people monitor (and sometimes establish) timetables and deadlines to see that they are met. They make sure that the components of a project with multiple pieces are produced simultaneously, so that all pieces are available when needed. They interface with everyone involved in a project-account service people, creatives, production, and media vendors and gain an enviable expertise in just exactly how and when the pieces of a project fit together.

People in traffic must be able to manage a myriad of details under tight deadline pressures. But the payoff to this traditional entry-level job is a comprehensive knowledge of the direct marketing production process, and an ability to remain cool in high-pressure situations. Both qualities come in handy in account services and production, two areas into which traffic personnel are frequently promoted.


As in a general agency, people in media research plan and buy a client's media. The difference, of course, is that all the media selected are response media: mail-order lists, telemarketing lists, response-prone broadcast segments and print media and interactive electronic media.

In planning space for a direct response print ad, for example, a media assistant looks for a magazine with a good response record, not a coffee table book, because people are reluctant to mar a beautiful book by ripping out a coupon. When buying television, the direct response media buyer looks for nonprime-time slots; when reruns and other less-engaging shows are programmed because viewers who are engrossed in a prime-time show or movie don't call or even write down 800 numbers. Matching the right list to the right client or offer is similarly delicate; planners must find consumers with the right demographic characteristics or buying habits who have also indicated a willingness to purchase by mail.

The media department is an excellent place to launch an agency career. Entry-level media personnel, typically called media assistants, collaborate with people throughout the agency as they help select and purchase lists, space, and time, and assist in analyzing the results of campaigns. Media assistants coordinate orders with brokers and publications, meeting all pertinent deadlines. They also sharpen their negotiating skills by bargaining for premium positions or time slots at the best rates possible.

In a large agency, media assistants are eventually promoted to media planner or media buyer. Using syndicated data, rate cards, Standard Rate and Data's guides to print media and mailing lists, and other sources, planner's research and select all the media that will be used during a campaign. Some planners also purchase media, although broadcast purchases are generally handled by buyers, whose only job is to purchase media. Some planners and buyers specialize in print, while others specialize in broadcast or lists.

Large offices like Ogilvy & Mather Direct's New York office can have as many as forty people working in media. Smaller agencies will have fewer, and responsibility for planning and purchasing media will overlap. Some smaller agencies have no separate media staff. In these agencies, account services personnel handle some of the planning function, but delegate media buying to free-lancers or an outside media buying service.

Successful media people possess analytical minds, excellent communication skills, and a basic curiosity about new and emerging forms of media.


A direct marketing agency's creative staff falls into two camps - those who work with words and those who work with pictures.

Copywriters participate in the strategy and planning sessions in which an agency develops its concept for a client's project. After that, they closet themselves with art directors to bring that concept to life.

Copywriters must be able to communicate persuasively and concisely. But a gift for language must be complemented by a keen sense of marketing. In direct response agencies, the raison d'etre of all copy is to sell. Fancy, clever, self-conscious prose-unless it delivers the selling message and increases response-is a no-no. An intimate knowledge of the audience being targeted-what it wants, why it buys, how it reacts-is essential.

Copywriters generally start off as assistant or junior copywriters. In smaller agencies, they are responsible for proofing copy as well as writing it. Copywriters and senior copywriters handle more prestigious accounts and play a bigger role in crafting and executing the client's creative strategy in conjunction with the art staff. A copy supervisor/director manages copywriters, motivating them, reviewing their work, boosting morale when work is rejected, and monitoring work flow and deadlines. At the very top is vice-president/creative director, who supervises both copywriters and graphic arts staff.

Art directors and assistant art directors transform a project's creative strategy into a tangible design that makes the selling message as relevant and as tantalizing as possible. Weaving color, type, and illustrations around and through a copywriter's words, these artists create visual reasons to buy or inquire. Some of their specific duties include
  • Attending strategy meetings.
  • Conceiving a multiplicity of ideas and illustrating them in pencil sketches for account team discussion.
  • Providing the rationale for the creative execution-in other words, explaining why certain colors or graphics were chosen.
  • Preparing and revising comprehensive layouts, and working with key-liners on final art boards.
  • Arranging and directing photo shoots.
  • Reviewing final art boards and proofs.

Most direct mail packages contain a dozen different components, all of which must be conceived of, designed, and produced individually. On the production staff falls the responsibility for turning finished art and copy into a 6" x 9" package with an outer envelope, a letter, brochure, order card, buck slip, lift letter, and reply envelope.

Few people who succeed in production are detail oriented, able to work under pressure, and thoroughly familiar with production processes and suppliers. Through their efforts, the component parts of a package are printed so that final colors match PMS swatches, final dimensions are precise (so that all the components will fit into the outer envelope), and postal regulations and size standards are accommodated.

Production people also work hard to stay abreast of rapidly changing reproduction technology and postal regulations. They are experts on computer typesetting, design, and reproduction; ink-jet and laser-printing processes; gluing and binding technologies that can affect a print ad with a reply card inserted in a magazine; as well as printing the perforated gummed stickers that fill every mailing from Publishers Clearing House.

Production managers are responsible for estimating, purchasing, and coordinating the graphics arts services required to produce a project. In very large agencies, a production manager might oversee a staff of production coordinators or production buyers who would each assume responsibility for certain projects. Proofreaders and typographers work to make sure that copy is error-free and professionally set. Key-liners and layout artists (sometimes called "wrists") make sure that the art director's concepts become mechanicals that can be reproduced correctly.


In the old days, research meant testing-mailing two versions of a package to the same list, and seeing which one drew the higher response. While testing remains a fundamental research function, research techniques formerly associated with general agencies are beginning to penetrate direct marketing.

Very large agencies like Ogilvy & Mather Direct have research departments whose employees direct consumer surveys, focus groups, and other research vehicles and techniques as client needs dictate. Smaller agencies retain an outside service to handle research assignments, with agency and client input.

Research professionals should have a strong background in research methodology, quantitative and behavioral statistics, psychology or sociology. An MBA can be helpful.


As the power of a strong database is recognized, more agencies are hiring experts who can help clients develop, maintain, and benefit from a database marketing program. These professionals can assist clients in
  • Determining the kinds of information needed for targeted marketing.
  • Gathering and enhancing the data.
  • Planning marketing programs that take advantage of the database, or turn it into a profit center.
Database experts must combine the knowledge of computer sciences, management information systems, and statistical analysis with real marketing savvy. Entry level titles are analyst/programmer, program coordinator and technical support manager. In smaller agencies, account staff may consult on a database's potential, then help a client select an appropriate vendor for database management services rather than handle it themselves.


In a gleaming office just east of Chicago's O'Hare Airport, The Townsend Agency's twenty-six employees work together to produce award-winning direct marketing for a client list that runs from American Drug Stores to Discover Card Services, 'The Disney Store, Montgomery Ward, and Society Bank.

Founded by Phil Walkenshaw and Gary Tillery in 1979, The Townsend Agency grossed just $63,000 in its first year. Walkenshaw (who majored in philosophy and was once general manager of Mother Earth News) and Tillery (who majored in Latin American Studies and worked in Indonesia and Singapore during the early 1970s) attracted their first clients by promising they would "beat their control". In other words, by swearing that The Townsend Agency could create a direct mail package that would pull more response than a client's existing package. The challenge worked, and in 1991, the company had billings of nearly $15 million. It's Chicago's largest independent direct marketing agency, and was for two years one of Inc. magazine's "Inc. 500"-the nation's fastest-growing privately held companies.

The Townsend Agency started out marketing hard products but quickly found a niche in marketing intangibles such as financial services, insurance, and clubs. It has also built an enviable track record in new products, successfully launching twenty new products and services in five years.

"We start with the psychological premise that everyone will always say 'no' first-but behind that 'no' is a 'yes.' Between 'no' and 'yes' is a barrier, an impediment to purchase, a fear. It's our job to find out what that fear is and overcome it," says Walkenshaw. To do so, Townsend employees start every major project by drawing up two matrices for every target market, a benefit matrix that clarifies how the product or service can benefit the purchaser, and a barrier matrix listing the fears and other obstacles to a purchase. The matrices help them address the benefits and barriers in each target market-something it's hard to do in general advertising, Walkenshaw notes, which seeks to condense them into one benefit statement.

"Once a client has retained us, we brainstorm for hours to find the customer's real problem. Even when clients tell us what they think is needed, we try to discover what linguistically is the problem. When we can define it precisely, we can solve it.

"I see a lot of advertising that is subtly off target. It doesn't work. Our agency's results orientation means that we work to be on target every time so we can achieve the best results for our clients."

The Townsend Agency has twenty-six employees; six of them in account services, eleven in creative, three in traffic and production, three in general management, and three in administrative services. By and large a young agency (the principals are in their late thirties and early forties), the employees work together to tackle and solve direct marketing problems.

"A new client's problem will be defined by one of the principals, along with the account supervisor who will be handling the account," said Walkenshaw. Two principals stay on the account for at least six months, until the client feels comfortable working with the Townsend team. After that, one principal stays directly involved.

"Once the problem is defined, we let our creative's loose on it. Then, at what we call a 'heads meeting,' the writer, the art director, the traffic coordinator, the production person, the account person, and a principal all get together to review the pencil executions. The creative's take the feedback into consideration and then work up the creative that will ultimately be presented to the client.

"At Townsend, we believe that people are adults. By and large, they don't need supervision. We set high standards, and the people who work here consistently surpass them." Walkenshaw's claim is backed up by an impressive array of awards garnered by Townsend people, including four Echo Awards, an international Mobius, and two first-place Tempo Awards.

According to Phil Walkenshaw, the best way into an agency career is to come from the client side. That's where he started, when he served as director of marketing for The Bradford Exchange, the collectible plates company profiled in chapter 2. "Starting on the client side gives you an appreciation of the client-agency relationship from the client's perspective," he notes.

On the account side of the agency, he notes, it's best to start as an assistant account executive, or in traffic. "In traffic, you learn how an agency works. That knowledge coupled with a willingness to learn and the right personality can take you far. Two of our former traffic coordinators have gone into account management and have done very well."

In a small agency like Townsend, an associate account executive must be able to hit the ground running. "Large agencies can give employees a formal training program, but we can't. We offer something more akin to an apprenticeship we expose our assistant AEs to plenty, and ask them to work hard."

On the creative side, experience counts. The Townsend Agency has never hired an art director right out of school. Its small size dictates that art directors come equipped with experience, a fat portfolio, and Macintosh experience. Production artists and key-liners are occasionally hired straight out of school. Because The Townsend Agency has invested so much in computer graphics and typesetting equipment, it rarely goes outside for graphic services.

"Small agencies are easier to get into than large agencies, and they give their employees more responsibility," Walkenshaw points out. "New hires are exposed to more, so they learn more. When someone goes on vacation, somebody else takes over that desk. That means you get to handle a greater breadth of assignments."


Leo Burnett, USA has always marched to the beat of a very special drummer-Leo Burnett, who founded the agency in 1935.
One of the last general agencies to move into direct marketing, it has chosen not to set up a separate direct marketing subsidiary, but to integrate direct marketing into the overall agency. It has done so under the direction of Jerry Reitman, executive vice president, who is in charge of Burnett's integrated communications effort and whose cadre of direct marketing experts is spreading the fundamentals of direct marketing among Burnett's rank and file.

Because Burnett clients are primarily package goods manufacturers, direct mail is often employed to "build trial" for new products by enclosing coupons that encourage consumers to purchase a new product for the first time. Direct response print or broadcast advertising is used to generate interest in various products. Names and addresses of respondents are tracked as requests come in. Later, direct mail offers are designed to convert product samplers on the database from prospects to loyal users.

In other words, Burnett clients use direct response as an advertising medium, not as a separate selling channel. Two recent campaigns are good illustrations. Burnett's response ads for the Oldsmobile Achieva featured an 800 number that matched an inquirer's phone number with the closest dealer. Beef Industry Council television ads displayed meat products and provided an 800 number that consumers could call to get a recipe book.

In both of these cases, direct marketing was incorporated into the general advertising strategy. "All tools of communication should be known to the experts on an account," says Reitman. "Our direct marketing specialists can be utilized to enhance the skills of people who know United, Procter & Gamble, and other clients inside out. Through this one-team, one-voice approach, everyone on the account ends up knowing more about direct marketing than they would if direct marketing were a separate division or subsidiary."

Burnett's direct marketing specialists are assigned to specific departments, such as media, research, and client service, and act as a resource for anyone in the agency with a direct marketing question. Account directors can also get strategic input into specific marketing issues from Burnett's direct marketing specialists. These people are experienced pros but there is a handful of entry-level positions in direct marketing.

If you're looking for a job at Leo Burnett, a direct marketing background will be a plus whether you are in creative, client services, or media. But because Burnett is aiming to create what it calls "strategic generalists," it's unlikely that you'll be drawing only on your direct marketing knowledge. You'll be asked to become knowledgeable about every area that concerns the client to whose team you are assigned. Direct marketing, while important, will be just one of the arrows in your quiver. Direct marketing will be recommended when appropriate, but will not become the cart that leads the horse. At Burnett, the focus will always be on working with clients to create innovative, brand-building marketing solutions.


The world's largest direct marketing agency, as of 1992, is OMD, Ogilvy & Mather Direct.
Founded in 1974 by David Ogilvy, OMD has grown to become a network of fifty-six offices in thirty-two countries. It employs 1,600 people, 500 of them in the United States to produce over $800 million of advertising annually.

OMD's organizational chart parallels the typical agency structure, except for four divisions that report to OMD: Yellow Pages Advertising, Dataconsult, Electronic Marketing, and Hispana. Notes Michael Mesic, senior vice president/general manager of OMD's Chicago office, "In a very real sense, Yellow Pages Advertising is direct marketing because it is very response oriented. Data-consult, our full-service database marketing business, is completely focused on managing customer relationships, which is a big part of what direct marketing is all about. Employees in this division help clients compete more effectively through information technology, using it to advance marketing goals.

"Electronic Marketing is a leading-edge group that is using interactive media like Prodigy, sales kiosks, and computer diskettes in direct response campaigns. All kinds of new media are cropping up these days, and this division is responsible for finding their value as response vehicles.

"Finally, Hispana is our Spanish-language direct response arm. For our Sears account, for example, it has helped us market very effectively to Spanish language consumers."

Multinational clients account for about 20 percent of OMD's worldwide income. Smaller branches, especially those in smaller countries, handle a high percentage of the company's multinational business.

According to Senior Vice President, Network Development Patrice Lyon, OMD's strong international focus allows OMD personnel to gain experience in more than one country. Through its "Adopt a Country" program, for example, people in one country's office get to know the people, language, and clients of an office in a different country. "We keep an international network alive by keeping people in touch," explains Ms. Lyon. "It's all part of our commitment to being an international company."

Overseas opportunities abound for employees who have finished three to five years at OMD-but they do need to have the patience to wait while an overseas assignment is arranged. Finding an appropriate slot, handling the visa paperwork, and arranging the move can take up to two years. But once on the international track, people are often tempted to stay. One person who started out in New York took successive assignments in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Italy. "Of course, by the time she got to Italy, she was a very senior OMD staff member," Lyon adds.

According to Lyon, copywriters are moved around most frequently, and account service executives are the second most mobile, while art directors transfer somewhat less often. It's a given that anyone interested in moving overseas has good language skills, even though English is often used in OMD's overseas offices.

Domestically, OMD's highly regarded training program helps orient new hires in its New York office. Offered to twenty-five people each spring, it is open to employees who have been on the job for at least a year-"they are nominated by their supervisors. "Our training program starts by giving new employees a conceptual framework. It confirms what business we're in, why we're in it, what its components are, and what role the trainees play in it," notes Lyons. The thirty sessions, taught by OMD staff, cover everything from business trends to service skills, basic client internal communication skills, integrated communication, research, strategic development, testing, quantitative analysis, and economics. "Of course, we're training the industry . . . but that's what happens when you're the largest," admits Lyon.

How does OMD choose its new hires? "One unique part of our total recruitment program is modeled on the old 'member get a member' subscription technique. Our 'employee gets an employee' program provides a financial incentive to any OMD employee who recommends new talent that is ultimately hired. Because our employees know they have to live with the consequences, they make recommendations very, very carefully.

"The reason OMD has become the number one agency in the world is because building business is more than just building results, it's also building image," Lyon declares. "But we've also left our mark on OMA. Our agency slogan, 'We sell or else,' became the battle cry of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide in 1990."
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