Picking an agency outside the b-to-b box

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When it comes to Agency of the Year, we usually choose one of the traditional business-to-business shops. Take a look at our past winners, agencies such as Hensley Segal Rentschler, NKH&W and even last year's choice, relative newcomer Greco Ethridge Group, and you'll see shops that are practically synonymous with b-to-b. Not so with this year's winner. Even with the recent addition of such accounts as Microsoft Corp. and Gateway, McCann-Erickson Worldwide claims just 20% of its billings in b-to-b. But what a 20% it is! That covers not just Microsoft and Gateway, but also Boeing Co., DuPont, Texas Instruments, Allied Signal/Honeywell and Lucent Technologies, among others. It also represents a changing tide in b-to-b thinking, a shift that will have a ripple effect for all b-to-b companies in the not-too-distant future. For these companies, and others, McCann-Erickson offers a global perspective, and a consumer orientation, that traditional b-to-b shops usually don't have. It also gives clients its years of experience in media that b-to-b companies have traditionally ignored, such as television. And it knows how to help companies target the Wall Street community in a big way. Of course, b-to-b work isn't new for the agency; but the amount of b-to-b it's handling is increasing rapidly. Still, says Eric Keshin of McCann-Erickson, New York, "B-to-b isn't viewed as a side play. It's mainstream. The Lucent work, the Agilent work--that's on the agency reel." Plus, while it may be "just" 20%, it's still a huge amount in terms of b-to-b billings. In our latest agency rankings, based on 1998 numbers, McCann-Erickson Worldwide came in tenth, when it estimated its 1998 billings at just 9% of the agency's total. Indeed, McCann-Erickson U.S. estimates its b-to-b billings in 1999 at $850 million out of total billings of $4.5 billion. We picked McCann because it represents a new trend in b-to-b advertising. As b-to-b companies pick up steam and, as a category, grab the attention of Wall Street and the mainstream business press, they're going to need agencies that know how to keep the heat building. Too often, traditional shops fail to think outside the b-to-b box. They focus on specific players in specific industries, but forget that success in today's business environment requires a much broader appeal. They target professionals, not people, and try to sell services and products through jargon and technical specs, a technique that can work but often gets lost in today's media environment. That's not to say that all b-to-b agencies do this, or that none of them have the creative or global resources that clients need. Many do. They also have a knowledge of b-to-b that can be invaluable when used to a client's best advantage. B-to-b can be a tricky area, seeped in tradition and mind-sets shaped by each industry and sector. But in naming McCann-Erickson as our Agency of the Year, we believe this long-established multinational agency is well-positioned to step in as a powerhouse in b-to-b advertising that will shake up the status quo. In fact, in our opinion, it already has. *** Just as the world of b-to-b advertising and marketing is changing, so is Business Marketing. This is the last issue we will produce under the Business Marketing name. Starting with the next issue, due out March 27, the magazine will change its name to B-to-B, Advertising Age's newspaper of the marketing revolution. With this change, the publication will also offer you more news of b-to-b marketing while delivering it to you every other week instead of just monthly. The world of b-to-b is evolving rapidly, thanks to the influence of new technology, and B-to-B plans to be on the cutting edge of this exciting growth through expanded news coverage as well as analysis and in-depth articles. At the same time, we will continue to offer you, our readers, the case studies and how-to pieces that can help you do your jobs better amid increasing competition and pressure to demonstrate a return on the marketing investment. The business-to-business arena is getting hotter, and the business of marketing is growing ever more complex. The new B-to-B aims to light the way.
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