Burnett tech unit gets creative

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Steffan Postaer, the brain behind the award-winning "curiously strong" Altoids advertising campaign, isnt shy when asked to describe the typical technology advertisement.

"For some reason, all hospitals are white and, for some reason, all technology ads are gray," said Postaer, executive creative director of Chicago-based Leo Burnett Co. "Its not that most technology ads are boring. Theyre incoherent."

Postaers mandate is to change that. Last month, he was named chief creative officer of the Leo Burnett Technology Group in addition to his duties on Burnetts consumer accounts, which include Procter & Gamble Co., Phillip Morris Cos. Inc. and Walt Disney Co. He takes over the creative reins along with Mark Faulkner, senior VP-creative director at Leo Burnett, who added the title of executive creative director of the technology unit.

The technology group, whose major accounts include MarketSoft Corp., Imation Corp., Network Solutions Inc., Interland Inc. and Vignette Corp., has seen a number of changes in the past few years. Leo Burnett established the unit in July 1998 when it acquired TFA Communications L.L.C., a Chicago-based b-to-b integrated marketing firm serving the high-tech industry, creating TFA/Leo Burnett Technology Group.

In January of this year, the company was renamed Leo Burnett Technology Group, and in February, Jeff Jones, who had been an account manager when he left Leo Burnett in 1996, was rehired as president of the technology group. The unit officially was folded into Leo Burnett corporate in the spring.

No creative backwater

Now, after cutting 21 jobs in Mayand the unceremonious departure in early March of its previous CEO, Sean Biscegliathe Leo Burnett Technology Group is hoping that Postaer and his staff of 60 employees will pour their creative juices into tech advertising.

Moreover, in retooling the technology group, Leo Burnettone of the biggest agencies in the countrymay alter the perception of technology advertising as a creative backwater.

"Tech advertising is problematic for all agencies," Postaer said. "Imagine a triangle with three points. One point is advertising, another is technology and the top point is the economy. Leo Burnett is right in the center and we need to figure out how high-tech b-to-b advertising relates to all points."

Both Postaer and Jones said the technology group is eager to infuse some jazz into what can often be the easy listening associated with b-to-b advertising. "Theres a lot of ether in the tech space right now, and that brings an almost dreamy element to tech advertising," Postaer added. "We want to bring a little bit of the flea market mentality into the [advertising mix] in terms of, What are you selling? How much does it cost? and What does it do? "

Brand is key for techs

Jones said that with tech companies whipsawed by the downturn in the economy, brand is now the key to effective marketing campaigns. "In order for markets to understand the power of the brand, b-to-b companies have to get out of the product-sell mentality," he said.

Marketing directors insist that while tech companies need to protect the sales element in any marketing campaign they can no longer give short shrift to the brand, particularly in todays economic climate.

"Tech companies need to spend more time on their brand," said Richard Stoebe, marketing director at Oakdale, Minn.-based Imation Corp., which markets data storage and color management to the IT and computer graphics industries. "A lot of tech companies can be very me-centric rather than, We understand your pain and this is how our service is going to relieve that pain. "

Mike Kozub, chief marketing officer of Boston-based Marketsoft Corp., said: "People need to understand the value of what the tech company is selling and not that the technology solves world hunger. The threshold was low during the investment boom, but with the tech crash, [buyers] have become skeptical about software."

Pointing to those tech companies that survived the crash and are now crafting new business plans, Postaer said its not a question of if the tenor of technology advertising will change, but when. "Its time to enter into a thriving mode in which the technology client becomes a No.1 or No. 2 in its market," he said.

Tech ads generated by the new team at Leo Burnett Technology will start to roll out sometime in the first quarter of 2002.

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