Farella stakes out middle ground with indie TargetCast

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Independent media boutique launches are a much riskier proposition than, say, a creative boutique. The research and technology costs are high on one side, while on the other media has historically been tied to creative endeavors. Steve Farella, who set up TargetCast TCM two years ago after a stint as Havas' MPG CEO, sees only opportunity.

Mr. Farella claims that there hasn't been a media-agency launch in the past 15 years; competitors such as MediaKitchen and JLMedia are different beasts. "The media business has matured nicely, but we've got a landscape of global agencies and if you look at the marketplace, we've vacated the middle," Mr. Farella said. "The middle used to be occupied by the likes of DeWitt Media and Media First International ... they sold their companies, but that space is a vital space."

Mr. Farella, 48, left Havas' MPG shortly after the company gave him the job of spearheading a media roll-up, which involved the company moving its headquarters from Barcelona, Spain, to New York. That was back in 2001. He claims there were some major directional differences that forced him to leave.

Mr. Farella and founding partner Audrey Siegel, a former MPG managing director, invested their payoffs from Havas in their own business, which opened in April 2002.

starting at zero

The two partners started the agency without a single client and spent the first 12 months visiting clients explaining their idea for the new company. That time also gave the founders plenty of opportunity to think about a name. "The name means it is all about targeting and once you get that right its about casting a net and delivering as many of the target market to brands as possible," Mr. Farella said. "The TCM part is about total communications management, seeing the media as consumers see it."

TargetCast now counts among its clients insurance firm TIAA-Cref, Wyeth Consumer Healthcare, Wharton Executive Education, the state of New Jersey, Eight O'Clock Coffee and POM Wonderful, which markets pomegranate juice. Mr. Farella said billing will reach $350 million this year, up from $45 million the previous year. "Audrey and I started working for clients for lunch money and we worked up to dinner money and finally got to pay the rent money."

Two of the firm's clients, Wyeth and Wharton, said they were impressed by TargetCast TCM's strong pitch presentations. "They exemplified strong strategic thinking," said Steve Palmisano, Wyeth senior VP-ad director. "They performed really well in the pitch we put together."

"They do media planning and placement work for us," said Martin Hackett, director-marketing, Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Though this is the first media agency Wharton has ever worked with, Mr. Hackett said "the agency presented their credentials to someone else here this week, and the feedback was great." He describes Mr. Farella as both "dynamic and passionate."

So what's so different about Mr. Farella's vision for TargetCast TCM? He explains that TV won't always be at the center of their media schedules. For Wharton, the agency recommended mainly print and online buys in publications such as The Economist.

Mr. Farella said, "For TIAA-Cref, we worked feverishly to understand the target, after coming up with our strategy-financial services for the greater good-we connected it to the Olympics." The agency helped formulate a campaign that focused on local athletes in the company's major markets and then negotiated buys with the broadcast network affiliates, which included added value vignettes about those local athletes.

The agency has grown from a staff of four to 40 in the space of two years, with each individual assigned an extension number based on when they joined the company. Mr. Farella's is 01. Within the next two to three years, he thinks the company will be on track to do $500 million in billings. That sounds ambitious, but Mr. Farella believes he isn't alone in seeing a niche for independent media agencies opting to service smaller budget clients.

Just Asking

Name: Steve Farella

Age: 48

Title: President-CEO and founder, TargetCast TCM, New York

Q: How is being smaller better when a media agency's buying clout is seemingly so important?

A: Because of our size we have strategies that are no longer available to much larger shops. One strategy of walking away is not an option at a larger shop. If a network gives us an advantageous price, they know it isn't going to leak to a $600 million advertiser.

Q: What do you mean when you say you want to work for strong independent brands?

A: One that is easily recognizable, but not part of a multinational. We want to be the Davids beating up the Goliaths. If Coke walks in tomorrow, we're not built for that company, unless they had a strong independent brand such as an Eight O' Clock Coffee.

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