VML Walks Away With Payless.com

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VML has been named agency of record for Payless.com, the online arm of Payless ShoeSource Inc.

The Kansas City, MO, shop won the account after executing a project for Payless.com that lasted for a month and a half. It displaced incumbent Agency.com, Chicago. Billings were not disclosed.

"In general, with the Agency.com relationship, they weren't getting the attention they deserved," said Mike Yardley, vice president of new business at VML. "They weren't a huge fish in the Agency.com pond. They were a medium-sized fish."

An 8-year-old agency, VML last year reported billings of $108 million, specializing in integrating traditional offline marketing with online. Clients include H&R Block, Bayer Corp., BigFatWow Inc., Sprint Corp., Wiredinn.com and American Express Corp.

The brief from Payless, a manufacturer and retailer of budget footwear, is specific: Steward and promote Payless.com, acquire e-mail addresses and peddle the "buy one, get one free" offer through online marketing supported by store media.

VML's marketing for the Payless.com brand, Yardley said, will bank on its store channel to drive traffic online or will use the Internet to encourage multichannel transactions.

"How do you get shoppers who walk into Payless [stores] to sign up for Payless.com e-mail?" he said of the challenge ahead.

To accomplish that goal, the agency will use a combination of banner advertising, opt-in e-mails, sponsorships, online coupons, in-store displays and point-of-purchase signage, as well as employee communications.

"Payless is doing this because they see that the Internet, over time, will be an important channel," Yardley said.

The Topeka, KS, chain has 4,623 Payless ShoeSource stores nationwide. It also targets the mid-priced footwear segment through 267 Parade stores around the country.

But Payless faces stiff competition offline and online from mass merchandisers such as Target Corp., Kmart Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Payless' main concern is to garner as many customer e-mail addresses as possible to convey more information on products and offers.

"E-mail marketing is a great deal for them," Yardley said of Payless. "If you're promotions-oriented, they drive huge amounts of traffic during those promotions."

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