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Starlink Worldwide Reinvents as Spark Communications

Starcom MediaVest Agency Puts Digital at Core

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Starcom MediaVest Group's Starlink Worldwide is reinventing itself for the second time in its eight-year history -- this time as a digital powerhouse.
Ken Zasky
Ken Zasky

Started in 1999 as a media partner for small to midsize creative agencies, the Chicago media shop charted a new course in 2003, when it started working with clients directly. Now the agency, which will announce today that it will change its name to Spark Communications, has re-imagined its service model with digital at the core.

The progression is a natural one for Starlink, said president Ken Zasky. Digital already represents about a third to a half of Starlink's current media spending, and Starlink services four of the top 12 digital spenders in SMG.

"Our growth in digital has been organic. It's seen at every level of the leadership team," Mr. Zasky said.

Won't push clients
At the agency, the change means larger office space, a new focus on recruiting digital talent, and "aggressive digital immersion programs." But it doesn't mean pushing existing clients, such as Virgin Mobile, NBC Universal and E-Trade Financial, to increase their online spending, Mr. Zasky said.

"We have a lot of clients ... that are out on front of [digital]. We have others that are not, and we are perfectly adept as a full-service agency to support them in the nontraditional media. We have to do what's right for them," Mr. Zasky said.

Mr. Zasky's said it doesn't always take a lot of spending to maximize digital opportunities, citing Starlink's work for the American Medical Association. Using consumer insight, Starlink found doctors were overwhelmed by the information they need, so they helped AMA partner with U.S. News and World Report to deliver daily e-mail rounds to members.

"That e-mail campaign has turned around the AMA's ability to maintain members," Mr. Zasky said. "That's a digital element and a very small part of their total media spend. Digital is not about a percentage of the mix. It's just about what's right for reaching the consumer."

Similar to Carat move
Starlink is the second media shop to publicly announce its move to become more digital-centric. Aegis's media-planning and -buying agency Carat announced earlier this year that it was folding digital arm Isobar into Carat to form a new agency with a focus on digital.

Starlink's continued transformation has not always been smooth. In recent years it lost its former president, Scott Neslund, to MindShare and a major account, Gateway. But Starlink has bounced back, doubling its revenues in the past two years.

"The continued evolution of Starlink is a powerful SMG story. This is a business that has grown and found a lot of clients' delight in areas and activities that represent today's media marketplace," said Laura Desmond, CEO of SMG Americas.
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