SHARP PLANNING, RESEARCH BUILD CARAT BRIDGEHEAD - RUNNER-UP: PFIZER LIKES WHAT IT SEES, AND AGENCY REALIZES ITS DREAM OF MAKING ITS WAY IN U.S.

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The game-breaker. Look back at almost any agency pitch and most participants will say there was a moment when they knew they had either scored major points with the client or had fumbled the ball.

For Charlie Rutman, that moment in the pitch for Pfizer's $200 million-plus media review came this past November.

In the bright sunshine of the autumn afternoon, just as he was getting ready to speak, Mr. Rutman, Carat New York's exec VP-managing director, noticed some of the Pfizer executives looking at the spectacular view of Manhattan's East River from Carat's 34th floor conference room.

Too bad they don't award these accounts based on who's got the best view, he thought to himself.

IMPORTANCE OF CLOUT

"The discussion turned to the importance of clout," Mr. Rutman recollects. "I stood up and said, `Look, you have to separate myth from reality. I've been in this business 22 years. And every single year, everybody says they've beat the market in pricing during the [TV] upfront. Did you ever hear anybody say they didn't beat the market?

"But if everybody beats the market, what's the market? Realistically, most big buying agencies are paying the market rate. That's the definition of the market.' "

It was a defining moment, Mr. Rutman, 47, says. The game-breaker.

"It really got their attention. Everybody wants to get more for their money. So we dealt not only with the cost side, which represents the usual, but it [also] refocused our effort on the productivity side. I went on to tell them how we could squeeze out every possible qualitative and quantative advantage."

The consultant on the Pfizer review -- Alvin Achenbaum -- says Carat was particularly impressive in "research resources and models" and strategic planning.

Research and planning skills are hallmarks of Carat's successful European operation.

"There is no question those skills are a primary reason Carat USA is gaining an edge as well," Carat International Managing Director Brian Jacobs says from his offices at Carat's home base in London.

CATCHING ATTENTION

Seconding that idea is Andrew Butcher, co-chairman of Carat Los Angeles. "I think what caught the attention of Pfizer and Ameritech [a big win for Carat's Chicago office at the beginning of last year] was our propriatary research," he says.

Winning Pfizer in December, was a landmark event for Carat USA, Mr. Jacobs states: "We've always known that before we could be challenging the Starcoms and the MediaVests for the really big accounts, we needed to win something really big. With the Pfizer win, we've suddenly entered that division. We're now going to be taken pretty seriously.

"We've had this happen in other countries as well. You need that one really big client to say, `We'll be the ones to trust these guys.' Once you've got the first one, it's easier to get the others."

To put the win in perspective, Mr. Jacobs notes that when Carat hit the U.S. in September 1996, by acquiring MBS, New York, that company claimed $160 million in billings.

"And now we've won an account in the $200 million-to-$300 million range," he says, adding, "We're very pleased."

Mr. Jacobs says the other factor that's propelled Carat in the U.S. is "the hiring of David Verklin as our CEO, Charlie Rutman and Joanne Burke [Carat's senior VP-research and production development]. They're all top class."

YOUNG TURKS

Indeed, Mr. Rutman and Joanne Burke have been recipients of Ad Age's Media Maven designation, as has Andy Donchin, the company's VP-director of national broadcast.

Mr. Verklin, along with Steve Farella at Jordan McGrath Case & Partners, Bob Brennan at Leo Burnett Co.'s Starcom Media Services and a few others, are the Young Turks of the media business -- a generation of executives who, with their take-no-prisoners, brash styles, have demanded that media be brought center stage by agencies and clients alike.

Mr. Verklin was brought on board last year from the former Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco.

Besides the Carat mantra about media planning and research, Mr. Verklin says the company's success is related to "a vision about message management. It's what WPP calls total communications planning, or Omnicom calls communications architecture.

"The idea here is a focus on all of a client's media delivery systems. Not just radio, TV, magazines, newspapers and outdoor. But all the ways to touch the consumer, from the Internet to trade shows to direct response to Media Marketing Assessments (owned by Carat) analyzing the process. "

Mr. Rutman puts it this way: "Our whole strategy in the U.S. is that media is a game of inches, and to win this game of inches, you have to be the company that has a little more knowledge, a little more insight about media, about consumer's relationship with their media choices, and how they connect to their media choices.

"Indeed, if you think about it, it's really creative that is becoming unbundled from the media," he adds.

SQUEEZING FOR ADVANTAGE

What Carat is really about, it tells clients in pitches, is about squeezing out advantages, and increasing client productivity. Mr. Rutman gives an example:

"We want to increase clients' return on media investment.

"At some point there's only so far you can push the cost-saving button. But there's almost no boundary on the increased productivity side. On one hand, let's say I save a client two cents on a dollar -- that's OK. But if I then take that 98 cents and produce output of $1.20, that's better than OK. We can do that through proprietary tools, knowledge and insight.

Mr. Donchin, who has strong relationships with network sellers, says that when his former company, MBS, was acquired by Carat, "It increased my skill level exponentially." By using such tools as the Foretell database, his buys are now based on much more information than just the cheapest price.

Matt Bryant, co-chairman of Carat New York, puts it succinctly: "What's happened to us in the last year, is, quite simply, the U.S. market's testimony

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