Commentary by Randall Rothenberg

SMALL AGENCY HITS BIG WITH TIME WARNER CABLE CAMPAIGN

Seamless, Creative Merger of PR and Advertising

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Here's a striking thought: What if nontraditional clients with unusually intricate marketing needs are the redeemers of the traditional advertising creative person?

I thought about this as I was reviewing the newest work for Time Warner Cable, and catching sideways glances of Marty Cooke. Cable TV companies are despised. Marty was beaming. A prominent advertising creative director, he has at last found his metier -- and it is no longer advertising.

To explain, consider the category. First, my bias. I love Time Warner Cable: its Roadrunner high-speed service, its digital cable picture, its HDTV set-top box. Yet cable companies are the Rodney Dangerfields of infotainment. Because they long acted like monopolists, customers give them no respect despite big product and service advances.

Frontal assault
Time Warner Cable's new marketing effort is a frontal assault against these perceptions. Themed around the concept "Now, anything is possible," it is notable for several reasons.

First are the gorgeous TV spots, whose production values are unheard of in the cable business. Second is the intelligence it imputes to customers; the visual concept that infuses all the creative involves flying pigs, the reaction supposedly invoked when customers hear about the improvements. Third is the hard sell against satellite TV -- unusual in a category known for its take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward consumers. Fourth is the product segmentation, with Roadrunner getting commercials markedly different yet still connected to the parent brand. Fifth was a companywide, 33,000-person videoconference to introduce the new campaign and the cultural attitudes it is supposed to reinforce. Sixth is the public-relations effort, the point-of-purchase displays, the banners, etc.

An ad agency that is not
And seventh is that it all comes from one small agency, Shepardson Stern & Kaminsky, New York, where Mr. Cooke, well known for his Chiat/Day work, alighted 18 months ago. Shepardson Stern may represent the future of the ad agency, which is to say it eschews the very notion it is an ad agency.

Founders Lenny Stern and Rob Shepardson cut their teeth in political marketing, where communications by definition must be integrated. The boundaries separating media advertising, PR direct and promotions, even internal and external communications, are, they know, porous; client and customer needs should dictate appropriate campaign design. They solved the organizational problem conventional agencies face in offering integrated solutions by operating with a single P&L.

"It's an overused phrase, but we're channel agnostic," says Mr. Cooke. "We don't make any more money from advertising than from PR." Such secularity was what he had long been seeking. "Strategy means thinking outside the silos," he says.

"We thought we were bringing in a great advertising creative," Mr. Shepardson says. "Turns out Marty's great at PR and package design, too."

Beyond the spot and the page
This, of course, is where agencies ought to be heading. Marketers need as much creativity as they can get, and that means their marketing-services suppliers must stretch the definition of creativity beyond the spot and the page. Some creatives (certainly those who want to make movies) will still gravitate to old ways. But some (those who love marketing) will (to cite an old Chiat client) think different.

"After selling fruit juice and sneakers, working in such a completely different way is a gas," Mr. Cooke says. "I always wanted to play with all the toys."

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Randall Rothenberg, an author and longtime journalist, is chief marketing officer at consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton.

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