Chan Suh is bullish on wireless. he's so convinced it's the next big marketing tool that he's handed out wireless devices to everyone-from finance and administration to creative and account management-at Agency.com, the five-year old New York-based Internet professional-services firm he co-founded and now heads as chairman-CEO.
"You never know where the next good idea is coming from," says Mr. Suh, 39. "Remaining open to change" is how he characterizes himself and his chosen profession, which lately has taken a beating.
Just last month, Agency.com joined the ranks of i-shops announcing layoffs. Because of lower-than-expected financial results, the company was forced to cut 190 staff positions and close its office in Vail, Colo. Agency.com shares recently traded at less than $4 a share, off more than 90% from its December 1999 peak of $98.
But despite the layoffs and the share-price slide, Mr. Suh remains focused on the future. Be it wireless-a medium he says "is definitely going to be a powerful component of any interactive relationship from this point on"-or fine-tuning a multichannel marketing strategy for the agency's blue-chip clients, Mr. Suh is convinced that the earlier one learns a technology, the sooner one can implement ideas for clients.
Trying to figure out exactly how people want to communicate with each other and with advertisers is what brings clients to Agency.com, Mr. Suh says. "The Internet is not about the dot-coms, it's really about the transformation of every company and every relationship," he says. "All the focus on dot-coms that fail is misguided. In any industry, in any given year, only a handful [of start-ups] survive."
Surviving beyond the launch is a concept Mr. Suh has faced throughout this career. He started off in publishing in 1986, first at Conde Nast and then at Time Warner, where he led the marketing efforts for various magazines, including Details, Life and Vibe. He then joined the team that conceptualized and launched Pathfinder, Time Warner's Web portal, which eventually shut down.
Agency.com opened for business in 1995 with a Macintosh and $80 in a checking account. Helped by an early cash infusion from Omnicom Group, which owns about 38.6% of the company, it quickly grew and today employs more than 1,400 in 12 offices worldwide. Clients include British Airways, Reuters, Deutsche Bank and Coca-Cola Co. Agency.com went public in December 1999 and now expects fourth-quarter 2000 revenue between $56 million and $58 million, a number that came in lower than Wall Streets expectations due to the industrywide slowdown in business.
Mr. Suh says he hopes the agency's focus on bigger, more traditional advertisers will buoy the company.
"These are companies that think long-term because they can afford to, and it's those clients that we feel we can best serve. We're building businesses for the long term; momentary blips ... are just that," he says.
That was the attitude Mr. Suh carried with him when Agency.com took the IPO plunge, and it's an attitude he espouses in this year's much-tougher climate for i-shops. "When we went out into the public markets, people said we were missing the boat," he says. "I said I had a long-term plan and it [wasn't] going to happen overnight."