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CHIAT GOES FROM VIRTUAL TO INTERACTIVE AGENCY TAPS BKG AMERICA FOUNDER TO LEAD NEW UNIT, PREPARES TO OPEN INTERNET SITE

By Published on .

The agency that went virtual earlier this year is now going interactive in a big way.

Chiat/Day today unveils a new unit dedicated to what it calls "Emerging Media." The unit will be spearheaded by Marian Salzman, the founder of research company BKG America, who has close ties to agency chief Jay Chiat.

In another move, the agency has hung an "under construction" sign on the Internet and will unveil its site on the World Wide Web next month.

Chiat plans to use the site to do research and get instant information and feedback for clients.

Chiat will join a growing number of agencies establishing home pages on the World Wide Web, including Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis; Liggett-Stashower, Cleveland; and Poppe Tyson, New York.

"We haven't sorted it all out yet, but we know there'll be several people involved, making it a very organic site used by people in creative, research, account and media planning," said Janine Davis, associate management of information systems director at Chiat. "We've done prototypes of sites for clients and talk about having Internet links to other partners, including perhaps BKG."

Ms. Salzman, 35, will remain president of BKG, and she and Mr. Chiat insist there are no business conflicts in the arrangement. BKG works for several other agencies and marketers that aren't Chiat clients.

"Our initial mission is to make sure every client and every account group has access to her thinking-not under her direction, but working collaboratively with her," Mr. Chiat said last week.

"Marian is coming in as a new discipline, a resource that'll keep us abreast of consumers as they relate to new technology and new mediums. She'll be our research muscle who will work with all our clients on many different projects," said Adelaide Horton, a Chiat managing director in New York.

Although she wasn't previously a Chiat employee, Ms. Salzman is far from an outsider at the agency.

She met Mr. Chiat last year while pitching the agency on online research. He said he was so impressed by Ms. Salzman's ideas at their first meeting that he personally acquired a 25% stake in BKG and offered the company space in Chiat's virtual offices in New York in exchange for customized research.

Chiat clients that BKG has worked for include Starter, L.A. Gear, Benetton and Coca-Cola Co.

BKG, formed in 1992, last year won an exclusive contract to conduct consumer research on America Online through 1997. The company's clients include marketers Reebok International and Levi Strauss & Co., and agencies Griffin Bacal; Goodby Silverstein & Partners; D'Arcy, Masius, Benton & Bowles; and Leo Burnett Co., among others.

BKG conducts all online research for Yankelovich Partners. (BKG and journalist Bernice Kanner also conduct the Life-scapes online marketing research for Advertising Age).

Asked whether he considered acquiring BKG, Mr. Chiat said, "Why would we do that? Then we'd just have another company. The idea is to integrate Marian's expertise into the agency, not get another company."

Until now, Chiat's interactive point man has been Dick Hackenberg, who is spearheading several of client Nissan Motor Cars USA's projects. Mr. Hackenberg will continue to oversee Nissan interactive work and become the agency's West Coast contact for new media, based in Venice, Calif.

Nissan has been the agency's most aggressive player in interactive media, putting out floppy discs and sponsoring an online forum on America Online.

Chiat also is reportedly developing interactive projects for Coca-Cola Co.'s Fruitopia beverage.

The new unit will consolidate projects at several Chiat offices, including London and Toronto as well as the U.S. flagships, Mr. Hackenberg said.

In London, Chiat is working with Videotron on a test of an interactive TV channel. Client Body Shop has signed on to create 90-second interactive ads. In Canada, Nissan has signed a letter of intent to participate in UBI, an interactive TV system expected to reach 34,000 households in northern Quebec when it launches late next year.

Ms. Salzman maintains that Chiat won't have access to any BKG research, and she doesn't foresee any conflicts of interest.

Clients will wait and see.

"It's a great opportunity for Marian. But I'm not sure how it will affect our working relationship; according to her, it won't at all," said Mary Sowden, an account planner at Goodby Silverstein, San Francisco.

Mr. Chiat, meanwhile, can't say enough good things about his new interactive-media director.

"She's a human example of digital compression; she's very smart, highly opinionated and the fastest talking person I've ever met," he said. "She has an incredibly high energy level, which means there is little vacillation from origination of an idea to execution of the project."

Ms. Salzman is currently working on a book called "Kids Online" with Robert Pondiscio, public affairs director at Time. The book is due out next August.

"She doesn't come across as a pointy-headed computer or marketing whiz," Mr. Pondiscio said. "Marian is an orbital thinker, and writing a book with her is more like a really good college dorm room bull session."

Ms. Salzman also plans to co-author a book with Mr. Chiat about creativity and the virtual office.

"There's no hierarchy there, [so] respect becomes a combination of personal integrity and quality of thinking and passion for what you're doing," she said. "There's something great about being responsible for your own destiny."

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