Extranets bolster agencies

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By the time Jose Maria Olazabal's final shot with his MacGregor Golf irons landed safely on the 18th green at Augusta National in April, the club manufacturer's advertising agency knew it was in for a harried 24-hour stretch.

"Jose Maria Olazabal won the Masters using our client's golf clubs," said Scott Crawford, senior VP-creative director at Howard, Merrell & Partners, Raleigh, N.C. "The next day the client was approving mechanicals for a USA Today ad on our Web site."

In all, Howard, Merrell prepared six versions of the ad, including one aimed at trade publications Golf Week and Golf World, to help MacGregor leverage Mr. Olazabal's victory. Howard, Merrell's extranet helped streamline the approval process by eliminating the need for overnight delivery. "It was instantaneous," Mr. Crawford said.

Increasingly, business-to-business ad agencies are using extranets -- specialized, password-protected Web sites for clients and suppliers -- for a variety of tasks, including creative approvals, the secure transfer of proprietary data and even new-business pitches.

In its recent report, "Building an Extranet Strategy," Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass., found that many Fortune 1000 companies instituted their extranets haphazardly. Forrester suggested following three principles in planning more effective extranets:

  • Align the extranet with the overall agency strategy.

  • Incorporate clients' views, needs and concerns into the design.

  • Make sure the account executives and other personnel who meet with clients share responsibility for the extranet deployment with the information technology department or consultants.

    As a marketer of the routers, switches and software that are the backbone of the Internet, San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems is, not surprisingly, in the process of creating an extranet with its full roster of agencies. One of those agencies, Miller/Huber Relationship Marketing, San Francisco, has had its own extranet for Cisco for 18 months.

    "They're our direct marketing agency," said Keith Fox, Cisco's VP-corporate marketing. "There's more volume and faster turnaround."

    The new extranet will connect Cisco with its four main marketing partners. Mr. Fox foresees it simplifying Cisco's international marketing efforts. The company has several agencies around the world responsible for localizing media planning and creative execution.

    "For example," Mr. Fox said, "Dentsu in Japan will be our local firm that localizes this work. They'll be part of this extranet. We'll be able to start localization the same day."

    Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, New York, participates in a similar system with client IBM Corp. At a password-protected Web site, those involved in Big Blue's marketing communications efforts anywhere around the globe can view the company's advertising executions and quickly localize them.

    "If you're in Turkey or you're in Samoa, and you're part of IBM's marketing communications, you can look at ads from other regions of the world and get information about what works there," said Steve Hayden, O&M's president of worldwide brand services on IBM. "You can save a tremendous amount of money."

    Client directories

    The Greco Ethridge Group, New York, and Hensley Segal Rentschler, Cincinnati, take a systematic approach to extranets, creating a password-protected directory for each new client. Tucker Greco, Greco Ethridge's president, said: "It's a great way to present online ads. You're actually looking at it in the medium your customers are going to be seeing it in."

    Hensley Segal Rentschler presents creative on its extranet, and also set up a system for one client to monitor billing records. "The client can go online and access their accounting file to find out how many bills have been submitted, if they're outstanding," said Mike Hensley, e-commerce director.

    Other agencies use their extranets in different ways. Bader Rutter & Associates, Brookfield, Wis., used a password-protected Web site on its own intranet to post proprietary research that client Dow AgroSciences wanted to distribute to its pest-control operators. Bader Rutter also visits Dow AgroSciences' extranet to download logo art for the company, which recently changed its name from Dow Elanco. The name change required adjustments in existing ads and collateral materials.

    "Putting the logos on the Web made it much more feasible to get it done in a timely fashion," said Larry Bunting, Dow AgroScience's senior marketing research manager.

    Convenient pitches

    At Stein, Rogan & Partners, New York, the agency's extranet and specially created Web sites are a central part of pitching new business, especially if the prospect is an Internet company. When Stein, Rogan pitched FasTV, a company offering searchable streaming video on the Internet, the agency created what it calls a "Webahead."

    Before the pitch, Stein, Rogan sent an e-mail to FasTV, giving the company the password to a secure Web site. On the site, Tom Stein, president of the agency, appeared in a streaming video delineating his marketing philosophy.

    "It conveys our technological fluency and our deep commitment to the Web as a medium," Mr. Stein said. It worked: Stein, Rogan won the account.

    Howard, Merrell shows its own technological bent to clients by scouting photography locations via extranet. With a digital camera, a Howard, Merrell scout shoots the proposed location, transfers the shots to a laptop, and then posts them on an extranet Web site.

    "I think ultimately that all client and company communications that don't benefit from face-to-face contact will probably go this way just because of the speed and the convenience," Mr. Crawford said.

    But he also offered this caveat: "If you fall back on technology as a substitute for human contact, it can be dangerous [to client-agency relationships]. I think people have to be careful about not forgetting that they're not talking to a machine when they're typing in all this information."

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