Ailing Ultrafem Halts DRTV Marketing Campaign

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Ultrafem Inc., faced with a financing crunch and internal management changes, has put its direct response television campaign on hold temporarily.


The New York City-based company had pinned much of its expansion hopes on the long form direct response format, which was seen as key to explaining the functions of its Instead alternative feminine protection cup.


"While the company is looking for additional funding, it has to be cash conservative," says Andy Keller, an account executive with P. L. Thomas Group, Chicago, which is handling media inquiries about Ultrafem. Ultrafem executives declined comment; all calls were referred to the investor relations agency.


"What this means is that any current advertising on the air will be winding down, and there are no immediate plans to do any advertising for Instead," Keller says. "The company hopes to advertise again, once management changes and additional financing have been secured."


It is not clear at this time what is the future of Ultrafem as an independent company. In December, the company announced that long-term financing wasn't "imminent" and announced it was considering the sale of the company, its assets or distribution rights.


As part of its efforts to secure financing, the company's board in January fired chairman and chief executive John Andersen and Ultrafem's founder and executive vice president Audrey Contente, who had accused Andersen of sexual harassment. Contente, an accomplished triathlete who invented Instead, had filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Andersen, alleging sexual harassment and retaliation.


Published reports indicated that the company felt the dispute between Contente and Andersen had become "a distraction" and was "impeding efforts to resolve the company's financial woes." Both Contente and Andersen remain directors of the company.


Spokesmen for the company said it is searching for a new chief executive and president. The company named Joy V. Jones, an attorney and an Ultrafem investor, as chairman, and also established the office of chief executive, consisting of Dori M. Reap, senior vice president-finance, and Tonya G. Hinch, senior vice president-marketing and sales, pending the appointment of a new chief executive.


To date, Ultrafem is distributing Instead, a non-absorbent menstrual cup, in 11 western states, although the company had managed to win distribution among major national retailers, including Target Stores, Walgreen's and Wal-Mart, before financing collapsed.


The Instead infomercial, which the company says was successful in selling the product, blends the humor of old films and the attitudes towards women in the past with a fun quiz about women and menstruation. The testimonial-laden infomercial is a light, entertaining look at an intimate topic while providing women with solid information regarding the product. The half-hour infomerical was supported with a 60-second spot, as well as direct response print advertising, direct mail and a site on the World Wide Web.
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