QVC Hires Zimmerman for Social Media, Digital Work

Without Review, Home-Shopping Cable Network Hires Agency to Reach Consumers on Twitter, Facebook

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NEW YORK ( -- Shopping network QVC has hired an outside agency, Zimmerman Advertising, to help with interactive and social-media efforts.

The move is an unusual one for the home-shopping cable network because QVC has historically handled marketing in-house, and because the Omnicom Group agency, while known for its retail expertise, is hardly top of mind when it comes to agencies with experience in the increasingly popular social-media space.

"We do everything ourselves here, but every once in a while we tap someone to help us," said Peter Farrell, QVC's director of brand development and strategy. "When [Zimmerman] came in, they had a single-minded point of view around the importance of branding in the retail space. They will help add bandwidth to our team."

Zimmerman, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., was selected by the marketer thanks to recommendations, not a review process. "I'm not into quote-unquote pitches," said Mr. Farrell, who prior to arriving at QVC nearly three years ago had an agency-side career in New York at shops such as McCann Erickson and Grey Advertising, mostly in account-service roles.

"I had a couple of possibilities who were good fits culturally, and, based on their experience, came in to meet with us. I've pitched and have been pitched too, and generally I don't like doing that because often times who seems to come in [from the agencies] during those pitches are not the times you are working with."

Mr. Farrell added: "You're asking agencies to spend a lot of time, energy and money developing stuff that will probably never get to market. I think it's better to slowly and carefully do some due diligence and meet with them."

Beyond cable
The move to hire Zimmerman comes as QVC, which began as a TV-based home-shopping network, has been evolving its business model to capture more consumers online. It's also adjusting its marketing mix accordingly.

The Liberty Media Corp.-owned company's programming is distributed to nearly 170 million homes worldwide via subsidiaries in the U.K., Germany and Japan. It plans to launch in Italy next year. According to TNS Media Intelligence, West Chester, Pa.-based QVC cut measured media spending from $21.4 million in 2007 to $12.3 million in 2008. For the first six months of 2009, the marketer spent $4 million.

In the past it has devoted the bulk of its marketing budget to TV (it airs between 20 and 30 different spots a year on cable), limited print executions and, periodically, outdoor. Direct marketing is another chunk of its marketing spending, which is now mostly e-mail and online search.

Mr. Farrell declined to provide the proportion of QVC's marketing budget that it plans to devote to social media in the future, but said it will increase, as "this space has become important to our business."

Among its first efforts for QVC, Zimmerman has been asked to engage QVC shoppers online and in communities such as Facebook and Twitter during the holiday season. The agency will also be reaching out to bloggers and "influencers" to offer interviews with product experts or discuss deals that QVC is offering.

"Social media isn't just about amassing huge quantities of friends and fans, it's about leveraging that following and eventually converting it into sales," said Scott Thaler, exec VP-chief interaction officer at Zimmerman.

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