Best & Brightest Special Report: Sandler found her groove in alternative media

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It sure seems as if Susan Sandler has always been involved in alternative media. Sandler began her career in public relations, which "in the early 80s was the major alternative trend to traditional advertising," she said. "We were all about acquiring what were earmarked traditional ad dollars for new ways of talking to constituencies. I think that was really good training for new media."

Later, Sandler worked on some of the first interactive TV trials. She then went on to run her own independent consulting company called Sandler New Media. There, she did everything from primary research to helping customers dip their toes in the water with their first online ad campaigns. Subcontracting through ad agencies, she made some of the first online media recommendations for companies like Pizza Hut and Visa.

Since joining US Interactive Inc. in 1998, Sandler has focused her efforts on helping clients Sprint Business and Bowne & Co. Inc. use Internet marketing to their best advantage. "I think in both cases, we've been able to use the Internet as a very targeted medium to acquire qualified leads for the sales forces of these organizations." In general, she said, conversion rates are very often in the 5% to 15% range, much higher than conversion to action in many other types of advertising.

"Very often our clients can't imagine that we're going to be able to uncover qualified leads on the Internet that they haven't touched, and yet we do," Sandler said. "I think that's why it's proving to be more cost effective in some ways than direct mail. It's also the optimization. Very quickly, we can see what kind of leads we're generating and what the results are, and we can optimize creative and placement."

To find the best opportunities for her clients, Sandler said there's nothing like good old-fashioned digging. "I love the research tools and networks that are available for media buying, but none of that can completely supplement your own gut instinct about finding new sites and new opportunities," she said. "The beauty of the Internet right now is it's all still pretty negotiable. You can go in and talk to a site and craft a placement opportunity or sponsorship opportunity, which normally are unavailable in traditional media."

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