DIRECT PARTNERS ONLINE WITH WEB'S EARTHLINK: AGENCY TO WORK CLOSELY WITH NO. 3 ISP'S NEW GENERAL AD SHOP MENDELSOHN

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Internet service provider Earthlink, pegging direct marketing as a "key component" in adding subscribers, confirmed that Direct Partners, Santa Monica, Calif., is its new direct marketing agency of record.

Direct Partners was selected without a formal review at the same time Earthlink picked its general ad agency in September. It conducted a review for that account, with Mendelsohn/Zien, Los Angeles, winning the competition. Earthlink previously handled the work in-house.

Direct Partners will work closely with Mendelsohn/Zien, handling direct mail, online direct marketing, direct response TV and other media that could include radio and print.

`A KEY COMPONENT'

"We feel that direct marketing is a key component of our marketing strategy going forward," said John Lake, director of marketing for Earthlink, "and they demonstrated a good understanding of our needs in that area, including good analytical work."

Integrating the direct pitch with image advertising is going to be crucial in the upcoming campaign.

"They've asked us to focus on marrying different elements and offers across all media with Mendelsohn/Zien," said Wes Nichols, partner at Direct Partners.

That kind of cooperation helped Direct Partners win the account.

"We had case studies and examples about how we integrate with our other clients and their general agencies, and it's something that happened to be very important to Earthlink,' Mr. Nichols said.

Mr. Nichols also theorized that, in addition to proving strong analytics expertise, Direct's experience with DirecTV as a client may have been a strong factor in winning the Earthlink business.

700,000 SUBSCRIBERS

Earthlink is the third-largest ISP in terms of subscribers, currently totaling about 700,000, behind America Online at about 13 million and AT&T WorldNet at about 1 million. Sprint Corp. took a minority stake in Earthlink last February.

The marketer and agency declined to comment on the size of the media budget.

"We are testing the feasibility of various media elements in a national campaign, including direct," Mr. Lake said. "Depending on the success of that test, we'll move forward with what works."

Mr. Lake said that he met Direct Partners during the general agency review.

"We saw several direct-specific companies because the presentations from image ad agencies included partnerships," he said. "In that process, we met Direct Partners and liked what we saw. They were partnered with an agency we didn't select, although we heard from two other agencies we talked to that mentioned them as folks that they wanted to partner with."

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