Chance led Fry to world of Web sites

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David fry did not expect to be counted among the digeratti when he graduated from Harvard. Rather, he expected his "geeky academic" interest in all things computers would lead to a nice job putting together CD-ROMs for clients of his family's business, offset printer Fry Communications.

Mr. Fry chuckles in saying his interest in the nascent online world and expertise in integration technology led him to found Fry Multimedia, a highly regarded strategically oriented interactive advertising and marketing agency.

"I started Fry Multimedia as a division of my father's company, taking existing clients' material and repackaging it into another framework," he says.

"But that failed. There was so much frustration with CD-ROMs. They never really got going. But the World Wide Web, that was just starting to get hot, and the cost to do anything was so cheap. It wasn't so difficult to talk our (first client) Godiva Chocolatier into trying the Web as a promotion for their products, instead of a CD-ROM.

"Remember, there were almost no Web users back then in 1994. But it really assumed a life of its own."


From that humble test, Godiva's marketers passed the word on to folks at Unilever's Ragu, who wanted Fry to do the same thing for their pasta sauces. In March 1995, Ragu launched a site ( devoted to people who love pasta sauce.

"That site still exists," says Mr. Fry, who expresses wonder at both the longevity of what he thought would be a test site and that the Ragu site won the ad agency a Clio. "And it brought us to the attention of a lot of other marketers." Among the clients are General Motors Corp.'s OnStar global positioning system; 1-800-Flowers; Eddie Bauer Inc.; Crate & Barrel; Coach; Spiegel; and women's catalog Newport News.

Fry Multimedia now has 250 people working in offices in Ann Arbor, Mich.; Chicago; New York; and Seattle. What brings clients in the door, Mr. Fry says, is the agency's ability to create products and services with real value.

"We're not about cool, about hype, about building for its own sake. Our products represent the users of our clients' products," he says. "The hallmark of a Fry site is an understanding of our clients and their users and enhancing that relationship. The greatest compliment is `Oh, I didn't realize that Fry did that,' and that's very satisfying to me."


What sets Fry's e-commerce initiatives apart, he says, is the user management experience. "It's easy to use, easy for our clients to deliver their message and merchandise their products, tied together with our passionate interest in analyzing the data that comes off the site. We like to build the site, analyze the data and feed it back into a new design phase. We don't build sites and walk away."

That chance relationship with Godiva has turned into a long-lived partnership, with Fry in September helping the high-end chocolate marketer develop a program to connect with customers using wireless Web-enabled devices. Fry has created an application that automatically finds the nearest Godiva store using a global positioning system, and then lists the closest stores along with a map to those stores. Mr. Fry is convinced that wireless applications and devices soon will play a major role in retailing.

The modest Mr. Fry doesn't claim to have a grand scheme for the Internet. "I just made it up as I went along," he says.

The privately held Fry expects 2000 revenue of about $35 million, up 75% from 1999.

"I've got to be honest, I thought I'd be doing CD-ROMs about farm reports," Mr. Fry laughs about his thinking when he started the agency. As for the future, he sees as much potential in wireless as he did in interactive advertising.

"But interactive marketing and advertising. Wow. Now there's wireless advertising, and you know I know exactly how this scenario is going to end."

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