KIRSHENBAUM WARMS UP TO DIRECT

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A mailer from Citibank to graduating college seniors offers tips on how to stay full on a student budget:

"Tap water. Drink it with every meal. Comes in hot and cold," is one tongue-in-cheek suggestion, followed by: "Ketchup. The government says it's a vegetable. Add water to make soup."

The mailer is part of an overall $10 million fall campaign planned for Citibank's upcoming campus push to get college kids to sign up for credit cards.

The attitude is a trademark for Kirshenbaum & Bond, the New York agency best known for guerrilla marketing and offbeat ads for Snapple Beverage Co. and Charivari clothing stores. But the medium, direct marketing, is not.

When the agency was first asked three-odd years ago to create a direct campaign for Chase Manhattan Bank, its reaction was also vintage Kirshenbaum & Bond: "We said, `We're not a direct agency,'*" agency Chairman-Executive Creative Director Richard Kirshenbaum recalled. "I thought direct was boring, that everything was junk."

Prodded by Chase, a reluctant Mr. Kirshenbaum began looking for seasoned direct creatives to recruit.

"We told them, `Give us 60 days to find anyone who's any good; if we can't, we won't take the account,'*" said CEO Jon Bond.

The agency began staffing a direct group, capping its search a year ago with the recruitment of Mark DiMassimo, VP-creative director, from J. Walter Thompson USA.

Kirshenbaum & Bond ultimately lost Chase Manhattan, but picked up Citibank in December.

Today, direct comprises about $30 million, or 20%, of the agency's total $150 million in billings, Mr. Kirshenbaum said.

He oversees the shop's direct work for Snapple; Schieffelin & Somerset Co.'s Ruffino wines; CNBC's new cable network, America's Talking; and Columbia House unit Spring Street Music.

The agency this month dubbed the group that handles direct the Integrated Creative Group, a move Kirshenbaum & Bond undoubtedly hopes will help establish the hot shop as a mature agency.

But it still has a healthy dose of attitude.

Direct "is the only part of the business where if a client's spouse doesn't like it, no one cares," Mr. Bond quipped.

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