Century Direct Seeks New Direction Under New Ownership

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LAS VEGAS - Century Direct, a direct marketing agency in Santa Monica, CA, is distancing itself from its predecessor name, Williams Worldwide Inc., in an attempt to revive itself.

The agency was formed out of the core operations of Williams, the infomercial media agency that used to be largest in the DRTV industry with $80 million a year in billings. Williams fell on hard times earlier this year as it struggled with the bankruptcy of a major client, Kent & Spiegel Direct Inc., Culver City, CA, and announced difficulties in meeting payments to broadcasters.

It was sold to Century Media Inc., Santa Monica, CA, a media company owned by Al Lapin, founder of the International House of Pancakes restaurant chain. Immediately following the acquisition deal, the agency was named Williams Direct.

The name was changed again last summer to Century Direct because "it caused confusion in the marketplace," Bagg said, in an interview at the Electronic Retailing Association conference here last month. Part of the confusion was attributed to the fact that the former owner of Williams Worldwide, Kathleen Williams, continues to do business as owner of her international distribution company, Williams Worldwide Television.

"We're a new company," Bagg said. "We want to emphasize we're not Williams anymore."

The company won three awards at the ERA conference for clients that used to be Williams clients. It won Best Short Form Script for a Citibank commercial, Best Corporate Short Form Commercial for a San Francisco Examiner spot and best Short Form Commercial for a Providian spot.

While Century Direct's promotional materials also list clients that were acquired under Williams' management, Bagg said the company is different from Williams in several key respects. Whereas Williams developed a specialty in infomercial media, Century Direct's activities are mostly concentrated on DRTV spots and the Internet.

"Seventy percent of our business is short form," Bagg said. "The Internet is still a relatively small amount of our business, but it will take shape in the next few months."

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