Martin Nisenholtz was a research scientist at New York University, working on a teletext project for Public Broadcasting Service, when Time Inc. hired Ogilvy & Mather and other agencies to develop marketing content for its own teletext venture.
That was in 1981, and O&M hired Mr. Nisenholtz first as a consultant and then full-time, in 1983, for its new videotext development group. That unit became the Interactive Marketing Group, and agency history was thus made-well before most marketers knew what the words even meant.
O&M has far surpassed its rivals by investing early and often in interactive media and marketing. The department created and run by Mr. Nisenholtz now includes 40 staffers, although last week Mr. Nisenholtz left the agency for a position at Ameritech, where he'll oversee the development of video programming and interactive advertising and information services.
The key to O&M's success in the field, Mr. Nisenholtz says, was the "notion of tightly weaving this into the Ogilvy culture."
To sell interactivity to an agency's clients is no easy task, Mr. Nisenholtz says, especially if the discipline is set up as an outsider unit, or if the expertise is simply acquired and grafted on.
"Account-management people only want to work with you if they trust you," Mr. Nisenholtz says. "They're not going to open their kimonos and allow you access to their clients unless they know you're going to deliver."
O&M has done that for an array of clients including AT&T Corp., Kraft General Foods, House of Seagram and American Express Co.
The interactive unit is working closely with AT&T on the Viacom/AT&T interactive TV test in Castro Valley, Calif., and also recently issued one of the first agency guides on Internet ads.