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Best & Brightest Special Report: Powell positions Sun to shine on Internet

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With Doug Powell handling its online media placements, Sun Microsystems Inc. has come to expect the unexpected. Whether it's Sun's subtle, shaded background logos on CBS Web sites, an animation of an airplane dropping CD-ROM bombs on the Alta Vista site, or a nine-hole interactive golf game espousing networking technologies, the Tonic 360 media director's novel take on Internet advertising has given his client the most bang for its buck.

"We want to show that Sun was the power behind the Internet,'' said the 41-year-old Powell. "At least part of every message is to communicate that Sun is Java.''

In managing Sun's online advertising expenditures for the last year, Powell rates as one of the first media buyers to require sites to support rich-media advertising. That strategy might limit the number of possible venues for the media buy, but it also weeds out low-tech sites and technical stragglers who ought to be updating anyhow, Powell explained.

And even with a limited pallete, Tonic 360 found plenty of ways to get Sun front and center, said Karen Becker, director of global advertising for Sun.

Becker credits Powell and the 14 media buyers he supervises with "completelyleading our brand in ways we hadn't yet thought about.'' For example, a documentary intended for internal use at Sun was reused by Tonic 360 as the "Network Planet: Digital Journey"documentary series, reaching millions over broadcast and Webcast channels at minimal expense, Becker said.

The cagey ways Tonic 360 positioned Sun interactively led to big business, as Sun last month moved to make the agency its agency of record for more than $100 million in annual billings. Powell, who worked in the San Francisco and Chicago offices of Foote Cone & Belding for more than 15 years before leaving in 1999 to join Tonic 360, said the challenge will be to maintain a small-agency edge while managing big agency dollars.

"You've got to be comfortable thinking about off-and online together,'' Powell said. "I felt constricted at the big agency because I had a tendency to think about media buying holistically. But now, you'll see more people evolving to this unified strategy approach.''

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