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Interactive Media Opens New Niche for Ad Agencies

By Cindy Atoji Keene

There once was a time when the legendary golden agencies on Madison Avenue – J. Walter Thompson, Ogilvy, Young & Rubicam, and others – dominated the advertising world. But, oh, what a simpler era that was, when TV, radio and print were the dominant channels, uncomplicated by cloud computing, mobile commerce, social networking, and other 21st century Web tools. The future of the traditional agency is in question, as companies shift dollars away from old-school media, and toward interactive marketing, defined as “programs that speak directly to the consumer, rather than a transaction-based event,” says Alex Poulos, producer and president of the Watertown, Mass.,-based LaunchPad Media, a Web development and interactive marketing agency.

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Interactive marketing is predicted to near $55 billion by 2014 and represents 21 percent of all marketing dollars, with companies like LaunchPad Media positioning themselves as experts in creating a vibrant online presence. “A Web site is no longer just a product catalog as in the late ’80s and ’90s; today it has to be smart and grow and improve overtime,” says Poulos. “It’s not just about having a lot of Web content, but the right content.”

The growth of the Internet has allowed LaunchPad Media and other national digital agencies like Razorfish, Digitas, Rosetta, and Wunderman to use design prowess and analytic capabilities to attract clients who are searching for a way to attract a younger, Internet savvy audience. “We are a middle-ground option for those who don’t want a big expensive shop nor a one-man band from Craig’s List,” says Poulos, who counts Abbott Labs, Liberty Mutual, LYCOS, and Choicestream among the clients for his 12-person agency.

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LaunchPad Media was created in 2002 after the Dot.com bust left Poulos and his partner Jacob Eidsmoe unemployed and searching for a new venture. They took their experience and a few freelance connections, cashed in on a few favors owed to us by friends, and hustled a few big projects, says Poulos. But starting a small business isn’t as romantic as you might think, he adds. “People think starting a business is you and a small team against the world, but it’s actually a lot of hard work, abeit gratifying.”

Q: One of your clients is Hungry-Man frozen dinners. What did you create for them?
A: Hungry-Man has been an ongoing client, and we’ve done a lot of fun, interesting creative work, from initial Web site concept to helping them create sweepstakes, even to the fulfillment of prizes. For example, a few years ago, NASCAR was hot, so we did a crosspromotion with them, and held a “Fill ‘er up” contest.

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Q: Where do you get your ideas from?
A: I’m a pop culture junky, whether it’s vampires or zombies, Madman or Dexter. You need to have a good sense of what’s going on, and meld that with a client’s objectives. It’s a blend of objective and subjective. And, for some reason, I get most of my ideas while standing up, not sitting at my desk.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to enter this field?
A: Don’t think you’re going to become a digital Spike Lee and make millions right away. You need to be passionate about what you do and be willing to put in long hours. There are deadlines that come up seemingly overnight; a client might demand that the whole treatment should be red, but then changes his mind and wants green instead – and by tomorrow morning, of course.

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Q: Your company has designed Web sites for a lot of consumer food companies, such as Log Cabin Syrup, Celeste frozen pizza, Armour canned meats, Vlasic pickles, and, of course, Hungry-Man. Does this mean you had to try all these different brands?

A: Yes, we’ve tried them all, including a new one last month, Promotion in Motion, which is one of the top candy companies in New Jersey, which sent a lot of candy our way. Taste-testing helps lead to some ideas. For Hungry-Man, for example, we saw how when you open up the dinner, there’s big pieces of chicken, tons of mashed potatoes and corn piled up. Seeing the meal solidified the fact that it’s not for the finicky dieter who is watching calories, but a different demographic.

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Q: Is that the meal that you have on a busy night?
A: Hungry-Man is great, but probably only once a week is fine for me.

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