CKS TOUTS TECHNOLOGY OVER CREATIVE

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Mark Kvamme has some ideas that may drive Madison Avenue traditionalists mad.

The president of Silicon Valley-based CKS Partners thinks creative among good agencies is largely a parity issue. He contends efficiency is what separates one shop from the next.

"What the '90s are about-look at any company, forget the ad business-is how you can become the most cost-efficient," Mr. Kvamme says.

With headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., and offices in San Francisco and Campbell, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; and London, CKS is among a new breed of agencies intent on using technology to the maximum to drive the creative engine.

CKS relies heavily on projects from blue-chip clients; it worked on the launch of Apple Computer's Newton and the redesign of United Airlines' planes. CKS is agency of record for such business-to-business clients as Tektronix, an Oregon-based electronics company, and American President Lines, a shipping company.

The agency invests lavishly in the latest computer and multimedia wizardry, spending $1.2 million last year alone. Mr. Kvamme says that's an allure for advertising technophiles.

"We're looking for extremely creative people who have an openness to the use of technology," says Mr. Kvamme, who worked at Apple before starting CKS. "If you don't think you can create as good or better work with the use of technology, then you do not belong at CKS."

To make CKS more efficient, Mr. Kvamme may bring in a graveyard shift of creatives so his expensive computers don't sit idle overnight. His 80-odd employees punch a time clock by signing on to the computer.

"We know exactly how much anybody works at any time, on what and where," he says.

But Mr. Kvamme takes umbrage at any suggestion that CKS is an advertising factory. CKS employees may be on the clock around the clock, but they also get to split 20% of the agency's profits based on their hourly rate and the number of hours they work.

Mr. Kvamme thinks his non-mainstream agency can pick up more mainstream consumer accounts. To broaden its appeal, CKS just bought a 22,000-square-foot broadcast and video production studio in Cupertino that Apple had used for in-house productions (AA, April 4).

The studio will be home to CKS Pictures, a division formed to produce-on the cheap-infomercials, TV commercials and programs, videos and multimedia projects. Jay Tannenbaum heads that division as exec VP.

The London office for now consists of two employees who work largely on European advertising for Tektronix and rely heavily on CKS computers in California.

But if London business takes off, Mr. Kvamme anticipates recruiting a graveyard shift in Silicon Valley to support it. From there, he says, it's a logical step to create "CKS Startup," using the computers and less experienced staffers-a "farm system"-to offer lower-price services to clients who don't want to pay the day rate.

Mr. Kvamme says the reason for technology is to do faster, cheaper and better work. Clients agree this is not technology for technology's sake.

"We chose CKS based on the strength of their creative and the quality of their strategic thinking," said Greg LeFever, marketing communications manager for Tektronix. "In order for those elements to be brought to bear in a timely fashion, you need to have state-of-the-art technology and increased productivity on the agency's part."

Mr. LeFever notes his company in recent years has cut its product development cycle in half and says he's keeping pressure on CKS to be just as vigilant.

CKS' strategy seems to be working. Last year, CKS reported $12 million in gross revenues and $75 million in capitalized billings. Mr. Kvamme says he's on track to double gross revenues this year.

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