NEW SETUP AT JWT DIRECT OPERATION EXPANDS REACH AS RESTRUCTURED CONNECT UNIT

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J. walter thompson Co. is restructuring its direct marketing operation under the banner of ThompsonConnect Worldwide, a new unit combining 21 JWT offices and affiliates previously under the JWT Direct brand.

Thompson-Connect will operate as a division of JWT's Total Solutions Group, the integrated marketing unit opened in mid-December to handle below-the-line activities, including JWT Direct.

New offices for the direct marketing operation have been added in San Francisco and Chicago, and more expansion and acquisitions are planned globally, with a particular focus on North America and Europe.

WILL PURSUE NEW BUSINESS

ThompsonConnect will develop relationships within Total Solutions' integrated marketing accounts, as well as pursue new direct marketing business on its own, said Total Solutions CEO Michael Graham, who also takes that title at ThompsonConnect.

"Our goal is to have ThompsonConnect be bigger than the general advertising agency," Mr. Graham said. But he also noted it all started with the clients: "This is what every client is asking for."

The new unit will start out with $250 million in global billings, working for clients such as Dell Computer Corp., Eastman Kodak Co., Ford Motor Co., Kraft Foods, Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. and Sprint Corp.

`THE CURRENCY OF THE FUTURE'

"Information is the currency of the future," and the new group was created to enable clients "to maximize their marketing investments," Mr. Graham said.

All large agencies now have direct mail and database capabilities, but the real test is how they use them to build relationships over time, Mr. Graham said. ThompsonConnect plans to leverage its proprietary research and data-mining techniques, as well as reach out to other units of JWT parent WPP Group for assistance when needed, he said.

"The key building block [in marketing] is the relationship between consumer and brand," he said. "We're really in the business of creating connections."

Total Solutions and ThompsonConnect are manifestations of JWT Chairman-CEO Chris Jones' mandate to create a commitment to total branding throughout the agency, Mr. Graham said.

Debra Brown, managing director of ThompsonConnect, New York, said the launch is more than just a name change-it is, in fact, a different way of doing business. Rather than use direct and other below-the-line disciplines as an addition after the fact, direct marketing now will be integrated within the strategic thinking and account planning from the start, she said.

"It's truly integral to the way Thompson as a global company will now operate across disciplines," Ms. Brown said. The process will be more holistic, "using common tools with a common language."

$20 MIL PITCH FOR MERRILL LYNCH

ThompsonConnect's first test was this month's pitch for Merrill Lynch & Co.'s $70 million account, where JWT engaged in a shoot-out with D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles. The team worked across disciplines and came up with solutions together, Ms. Brown said.

"We're feeling very proud of the ultimate product that we brought to Merrill Lynch. It came out of total customer connections," she said.

If JWT wins Merrill, Ms. Brown said, it will be the first account to be truly global for ThompsonConnect.

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