Temerlin's incubator launches campaign

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Launch Partnership, Temerlin McClain's new incubator for start-ups, plans a July rollout of its first TV campaign.

The effort, for online grocer GroceryWorks, is part of Launch Partnership's mission to offer brand-building and marketing advice to fledgling entrepreneurs trying to get financing as well as trying to grow.

Billings for the Temerlin arm, also in Irving, Texas, have grown to about $30 million, with a yearend goal of $100 million, said partner Diane Seimetz.

"We are a partner. We also share in the risks and rewards. You get the feeling of being in a bunker," she said. "It's a wild ride."

Launch has 30 employees, up from the five Temerlin partners who started the unit in February. Temerlin, the country's 46th-largest shop, is part of True North Communications.

Incubators are old hat in the fast-paced, billion-dollar Internet age where the well-moneyed can offer office space, insight and counseling in exchange for potentially lavish financial returns. But few full-fledged incubators exist in the agency world.

"I don't think there is any question the whole [interactive] area is going to explode, and we will do everything -- and are doing everything -- we can to be part of that explosion," said Temerlin McClain CEO Dennis McClain.

EQUITY STAKE

Launch receives some money from clients upfront, but much compensation comes in the form of stock, said Launch partner David Wilgus. Ms. Seimetz said the unit takes an equity stake since there are times when that's all nascent companies can offer.

While the potential upside is big, the downside is even bigger, said more-hesitant agency executives who cautiously examine potential dot-com clients. They say good ideas and strong enthusiasm often accompany mediocre business plans and even worse timing, management or resources.

"It's very risky, and that's why its questionable to many. Your money is all so far in the future," said Peter Krivkovich, chairman-president of Kramer-Crasselt, the country's 38th-largest agency. "You've got to be really careful or you'll spend a lot of time with really nice people who are going nowhere."

Launch's attitude is different.

"They're not Pollyanna-ish and just going willy nilly into the wild blue new economy," said True North CEO David Bell. "They're being very prudent, very careful and very businesslike."

10 CLIENTS

Launch has about 10 clients, including Hollywood Casino in Shreveport, La.; Dallas' Hall Financial Group, a heavily wired office park for digital entrepreneurs; and its largest client, GroceryWorks. GroceryWorks delivers Safeway Stores' products; Safeway is an investor in the dot-com.

"Looking at grocery shopping in a whole new way" is the theme of the TV campaign that's to break in July in Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Phoenix. TV spots, which will run at least through yearend for the estimated $12 million to $15 million account, will expand to San Francisco. Print and outdoor ads already are under way.

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