Carat Expands With Interactive Division

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Carat North America, a media buying and planning agency owned by Britain's Aegis Group, extended its services this week with the launch of a shop dedicated to interactive marketing and media services.


Called Carat Interactive, the Boston agency will initially serve clients such as Symantec, Hewlett-Packard Co., RadioShack, Pfizer and Xerox Corp. that already use Carat's media buying services offline.


Sister shop Carat Freeman has offered interactive marketing services since 1995, but this is the first time all efforts have been united under one corporate umbrella.


"What Aegis and Carat have decided is that this is very important and it needs structure and process behind it," said Sarah Fay, president of Carat Interactive and previously managing director of the interactive services and business-to-business divisions at Carat Freeman, Newton, MA.


In addition to online media buying and planning, Carat Interactive will offer performance marketing and electronic customer relationship management services, affiliate programs and testing of new technologies to gauge their marketing value.


Fay does not think the Carat Interactive launch is late.


"I suppose it would have been prescient to have done this a couple of years ago," she said, "but most of our clients are traditional companies, and most of them are just waking up to realizing that their target audiences are spending a significant amount of time online, so they need to be there."


Not that all Carat Interactive clients are picks from an existing customer base or bricks-and-mortar brands. The agency signed Winfreestuff.com and online information technology publication TechWeb late last month.


In the case of Winfreestuff, Omaha, NE, Carat Interactive will offer services that include online advertising, affiliate marketing and eCRM.


"[But] the ideal target is our Carat clients that are looking for integrated solutions," Fay said. "We're an immediate resource for Carat clients."


Besides Boston, Carat Interactive has offices in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago. In all, 45 executives work at the company, which projects first-year billings of $100 million.


Carat believes its experience in media buying justifies its entry into the interactive marketing services arena. The agency's European counterparts have been offering these interactive services since 1997.


"Carat has always had a broader definition of what media is," Fay said. "[Interactive services are] all an extension of message delivery."


In fact, she believes all forms of media ultimately will become eCRM programs. The agency is now gearing to meet the next hot development in the media world, she said.


"The next wave of interactive that is coming is interactive TV," Fay said. "Because of Carat's focus on the TV market [as a media buyer], this is a very important market for us to claim. We're perfectly positioned."


Carat North America last year accounted for billings of $3 billion out of Carat Group's worldwide tally of $12 billion. Carat entered the United States in 1997 after buying Freeman Associates, Newton, MA.


The agency's interactive services arm is particularly proud of what it calls its "innovation engine," a team of executives who review, test and implement new technology.


Next month, Carat Interactive will announce a consortium of clients that will partner with the agency to test various interactive TV platforms such as WINK, TiVo, Capture and GemStar/TV Guide, all of which allow viewers to respond to TV offers via a hand-held remote control.
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