The new agency, with start-up billings of $20 million from four clients, is a joint venture with direct-response expert Lockard & Wechsler. Real Time Direct will combine SFM Media's expertise in research and media buying databases with Lockard's tracking systems. That integration of services will allow Real Time clients to gauge consumer response as early as the day after ad campaigns first appear in traditional media, whether on TV, radio or in print.
TWO DIFFERENT APPROACHES
"This is not simply a joint venture, but a right-brain, left-brain operation," said Bill Barrett, exec VP-director of client services at SFM and exec VP of Real Time Direct. The new direct shop will offer clients a broad range of services including creative; media planning and buying; tracking and analysis of results; telemarketing; and fulfillment.
SFM Media, with an estimated $1.4 billion in domestic billings, first looked to service its clients' direct needs internally, but after 18 months SFM executives realized the shop needed more specific expertise. The media buying agency approached at least 10 different direct companies before narrowing the choice of partners to two. Lockard eventually won out thanks to a technological advantage: the direct company's proprietary media planning, buying, tracking and reporting system, MediaPro.
"We felt Lockard & Wechsler offered us access to the most advanced tracking software technology of anyone, and gave us access to first-rate professionals within each media discipline," Mr. Barrett said.
The two partners chose "Real Time" as the name because "it best personifies the level of responsiveness our clients need to implement and track direct-response campaigns," said Dick Wechsler, a principle at Lockard and president-CEO of Real Time Direct.
One reason SFM Media was eager to find a direct partner was to more easily quantify advertising efficiency, a growing concern among clients.
"If you take a look at where media and advertising are going in the next century, it is all about accountability. Advertisers want to know how their money works best. Not every cent can be measurably influential," he said. "It is up to us as media specialists to find out what works."
The deal to create Real Time Direct was completed in mid-July, and the Irvington, N.Y., offices are now open with five full-time staff members. Clients already on board include MCI WorldCom and Pitney Bowes. While SFM Media will continue to provide traditional media buying services for those clients, all direct work will be handled by Real Time Direct.
Lockard will continue to operate independently of Real Time Direct, serving its current direct marketing clients -- including Sony Music Direct, Quick & Reilly and Santa Barbara Productions -- at a more "entrepreneurial level," said Mr. Wechsler. "For these clients, we're their revenue string, their engine. But clients that demand a deeper level of research and reporting will be served by Real Time."
SFM Media, founded in 1969, has offices in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles and is owned jointly by Havas, the Paris-based communications parent of the Euro RSCG advertising agencies, and Media Planning Group Worldwide, Madrid. SFM's clients include American Isuzu Motors, Intel Corp., Office Depot and Swatch.
Lockard, founded in 1967, is an independently owned full service direct-