Response Marketing Group Opens Toronto Office to Service Canada Bank Giant

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By Lucy Jones

RICHMOND, Virginia - Response Marketing Group (RMG), a US direct marketing company specializing in banking services, opened an office in Toronto this spring to service the Canadian banking giant CIBC.

RMG previously handled fulfillment of CIBC's in-house credit cards from Richmond but decided a Canadian-based operation would produce better results for the bank, which is one of their biggest clients.

"RMG didn't want to take any chances," said Billy Sharma, managing director of the company's Toronto operation, which in Canada is known as the Interactive Marketing Group (IMG)

"CIBC is a Canadian bank, appealing to Canadian people. There are subtle differences in the way Canadians and Americans react to direct marketing, we wanted to be aware of those differences," he added.

Sharma, a Canadian, who was headhunted by RMG to lead the operation, has employed exclusively Canadians to run the office.

"Canadians in the industry know more about the people here, as well as the technical aspects of banks. Differences can be very subtle and only people who have worked in the industry here would know about them: language, for example, how it is spelled and the nuances in the tone of a letter."

The company was also having to do all its printing in Canada to "avoid the flack that you get if you do it outside," Sharma said.

RMG acquired the CIBC account in early 1997. And although the bank had been pleased with RMG's work and levels of customer service, there had been a few minor difficulties.

"It was an educational process for RMG," said Sharma.

"Many times they were told, that's good but change it slightly. To appeal to the people in Canada, a more subtle approach is needed. They don't like to be hit over the head by commercialism.

"It's a lot easier if you've got people in the country working on a project. The creative work then gets done in Canada with expertise from the US. It's the best of both worlds," he added.

RMG is the sixth largest direct marketing company in the US, servicing such clients as Pacific Bell, Fleet Bank, Bank 1, Disney, Bank of America and Microsoft.

It won the contract to fulfill CIBC's credit card services partly because in Canada US firms are generally regarded as being further ahead in this field.

"Although we provide other companies with services, we do have an expertise in the banking industry," said Max Coats, executive creative director of RMG in Richmond.

"We believed that we could export this expertise to Canada and at the same time expand the company," he added.

For now, RMG's Toronto office is concentrating its efforts on serving CIBC. But representatives have spoken with a number of other potential clients. "We certainly have plans to attract other firms in the future," said Coats.

RMG's Canadian venture is its first in the international direct marketing arena, but it has plans for further expansion at home an abroad.

"We are on an acquisition trail at the moment, having just bought Vision Marking Group in San Francisco, and are looking out to buy other companies on the west coast and in the southeast," said Coats. Europe is also in the cards.

Sharma's 8-person team in Toronto has been working non-stop with what he calls "a high level of commitment" on three new in-house credit cards CIBC plans to introduce to its six million customers soon.

RMG expects more work in the future because "CIBC is the type of organization where if you do one project well they give you another one," Sharma said.

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