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Special report profile: MarchFirst springs ahead

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Whittman-Hart, a systems integrator that this year bought San Francisco-based USWeb/CKS to create the merged MarchFirst Inc., is trying to do for itself what it promises it can do for its clients: fully integrate front-end design and interactive marketing components into back-end, back-office operations.

President-CEO Robert Bernard, who runs the combined company from a Chicago headquarters, has his work cut for him. MarchFirst now consists of more than 8,000 employees in 70-plus offices around the world, with USWeb/CKS providing almost half that number.

In an interview with BtoB's sister publication, Advertising Age, Tom Suiter, MarchFirst chief creative officer (and a founder of CKS and former chief creative officer at USWeb/CKS), says competing in e-business today demands that agencies marry technical expertise and marketing strategy.

"As a combined company, MarchFirst brings together back-office management with Web site design and marketing," he said, adding that the combined MarchFirst makes a stronger case when pitching Fortune 1000 companies.

"The whole e-business climate has changed quite a bit in the last couple of months," Suiter says. "Wall Street and investors are demanding to see results...and that demands a new way of approaching the business. It's our belief that it's the three entities of brand building, business strategy and technology that will best serve the marketplace."

Among MarchFirst's b-to-b clients are Apple Computer Inc., American Airlines and Visa USA's Visa.com. For Visa, MarchFirst began working on its Visa.com branding strategy but soon won a portion of Visa's Olympic sponsorship marketing account. The agency is now putting the finishing touches on its package for the Summer 2000 Olympics, everything from on-site trucks, jackets, corporate hospitality tents and flags, to complete branding for Visa.com.

For K.A. Steel, a Chicago-based chemicals producer, MarchFirst has handled development and June 2000 launch of its e-marketplace, Covalex (www.covalex.com). "We've taken them from a white piece of paper with an idea, all the way through a naming process, brand identity and essence, all the way to launch. Now we're entering the next phase, where we optimize all the marketing and relationships that are being developed as a result of this online exchange," says Michael DeNuzio, partner-global brand building, MarchFirst. "A lot of what we do for our b-to-b clients is focus on what companies want to achieve by engaging their customers. That dictates where we need to guide their online strategy."

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