@tmosphere cashes in on new mission

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Four months after its relaunch with a new name and mission, @tmos-phere Interactive is carving out a base of new clients, agency executives said.

The interactive arm of BBDO Worldwide, New York, that works for BBDO clients while pursuing its own business today announces it has won RealEstate.com as a client. The real estate site brings agents, lenders and other professionals together with home buyers.

@tmosphere will do online strategy, creative development and media buying for RealEstate.com, which has an online budget estimated at $4 million to $6 million in 2000. Tricia Conahan, chief marketing officer, said that is "significantly higher" than '99 online spending.

RealEstate.com developed its Web site in-house; BBDO South, Atlanta, previously handled more limited online advertising as part of a $14 million multimedia campaign for RealEstate.com that broke in June.

6 SHOPS IN REVIEW

While the Atlanta-based dot-com still uses BBDO South for traditional advertising, it didn't jump at the chance to use BBDO subsidiary @tmosphere without first conducting a formal review of other interactive agencies -- six in all.

"Who you pick as your Internet agency is a pretty critical decision," Ms. Conahan said.

In the end, @tmosphere delivered the goods.

"It's an entrepreneurial, deeply experienced, smart group of people," Ms. Conahan said. "Culturally, they fit well with Real-Estate.com. They understand our business now and where we want to go in the future."

Ms. Conahan said the company will ramp up its online advertising efforts in 2000.

The win is considered a coup by Susan Pinkwater, president-CEO of @tmosphere. A former consultant with Omnicom Group's Communicade, the holding company of interactive shops such as Agency.com and Razorfish, Ms. Pinkwater helped develop @tmosphere with the vision of "an agency that could position itself in between the interactive agency and the traditional agency," she said.

Last year, she met with Susan Ellis, exec VP-director of integrated marketing services at BBDO Worldwide, on another issue and found they shared an idea of what an interactive agency should be.

WHAT BBDO NEEDED

"BBDO needed an interactive agency that could create work that was as credible, interesting and creative as their traditional advertising," Ms. Pinkwater said.

BBDO Interactive, which was disbanded with the creation of @tmosphere, handled online work primarily for Visa USA, but offered little interactive capabilities to other BBDO clients. It was known primarily for online-media buying.

Analysts also criticized the unit, among other traditional agency arms, for its inability to aggressively pursue interactive business, such as Web-site design and ad campaigns.

With @tmosphere's creation, the team that had worked on Visa came on board along with two other former BBDO Interactive employees. Now totaling 30, @tmosphere has hired 24 new employees since Aug. 1, its official launch date. Many came from the outside; some, such as Managing Director Michael Campbell, came from BBDO's other divisions.

`WE ARE NOT STARVING'

@tmosphere still handles online media buying for Visa and now is beginning to do some creative work; a new online campaign breaks soon, Ms. Pinkwater said. The interactive arm also does online work for BBDO clients General Electric Co., HBO, the U.S. Navy and others.

While its affiliation with BBDO affords @tmosphere access to clients, administrative resources and money with which to hire additional staff, @tmosphere still has to prove itself to clients in reviews.

But by the same token, @tmosphere is able to turn away even BBDO clients it considers "socially irresponsible" or that lack a sustainable business model, Ms. Pinkwater said.

"We have a little bit of a luxury to say no because we are not starving," she said. "But we are like any other company; we have to make our numbers. But we are not going to do it at any expense."

@tmosphere also plans to handle print ads and is considering handling TV campaigns for clients whose accounts are too small for BBDO.

"But if an account goes above $30 million, we bring the account to BBDO," Ms. Pinkwater said.

That model is not unlike Young & Rubicam's, which last week launched Y&R2.1, an agency within an agency designed to integrate online and offline marketing for Y&R and non-Y&R clients in a smaller, faster environment (AA, Dec. 6).

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