INDEPENDENT WEB SHOPS BRANCH OUT: FOUR POINTS DIGITAL, FRY MULTIMEDIA LATEST TO OPEN NEW OFFICES

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East coast- and West Coast-based interactive agencies have encroached on each other's territories for the past 18 months. Now, the Midwest is getting a piece of the action.

Four Points Digital, a Chicago-based shop started in 1997 by three executives from Foote, Cone & Belding's interactive unit, opens a San Francisco office next week.

The agency (www.four-points.com) that has a staff of more than 50 also announced plans to open a London office by summer and a New York office by yearend. The San Francisco office will help Four Points better serve 3Com Corp., a hardware and software provider that's based in Santa Clara, Calif., and also has offices outside Chicago.

`NOT AN E-COMMERCE SHOP'

"Our company is clearly not an e-commerce development shop," said Michael DeNunzio, CEO and co-founder of Four Points, explaining how it hopes to stand out locally from all high-tech shops. "We're an online marketing company that specializes in media and marketing."

For clients that want e-commerce services and marketing, Mr. DeNunzio says Four Points will recruit the best developers for the job. The Chicago agency will still lead its portion of the 3Com Web business, while the San Francisco office, which is expected to be up and running with a staff of six, will lend support and develop its own clients.

"We're taking some key media people from the Chicago office and establishing them there full time," said Four Points President Pete Monkewicz, adding that it expects to hire 50 more employees during the next year to support the growth.

Other clients include Allstate Corp., AT&T Corp., Encyclopaedia Britannica and Sears, Roebuck & Co.

Four Points isn't the only independent agency that's expanding.

Last week, Fry Multimedia, Ann Arbor, Mich., opened a Chicago office. Fry's clients include Domino's Pizza, Eddie Bauer Inc. and Crate & Barrel. The office is intended to be a full-service facility and will support Crate & Barrel (www.crateandbarrel.com), which is launching its first e-commerce site in March.

Organic, which is headquartered in San Francisco, opened a Chicago office last fall and T3 Media, New York, opened a Seattle office in January to be closer to its client Microsoft Corp. It has a staff of three and is growing.

T3, like Organic, Fry and Four Points, is focusing on acquiring new clients rather than buying shops and renaming them.

THE ROLL-UP STRATEGY

"A lot of interactive agencies are pursuing a "roll-up strategy," said Randy Malmud, manager of business development at T3. "They're actively purchasing companies and rolling them up under one name."

The problem with this strategy is a lot of the systems in place at the parent company are not present in the other offices, she says.

And while T3 plans to export its New York thinking to its Seattle office, it hasn't felt a "pressing need" to open offices around the U.S. or abroad to service clients, said President Michael Diamant.

"One of the things we're known for is project management," Mr. Diamant said. With a staff of 80 in New York, T3 often uses an extranet system to manage projects remotely with clients. It also recently formed an alliance with The A Consulting Team (TACT), a systems integrator, which has offices in Chicago and

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