Feature: Respond2 CEO Outlines Agency Work

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Tim O'Leary is CEO of Respond2 Communications Inc., a Portland, OR, agency that has created direct response television campaigns for clients like Apple, AOL, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, NordicTrack, Philips, Procter & Gamble, Reebok, Revlon, Sears, Sony, Toshiba and Weight Watchers. He is also the author of a new book, "Warriors, Workers, Whiners, & Weasels: Understanding and Using the Four Personality Traits to Your Advantage."

DRTV News Weekly's Sarah Littman interviewed Mr. O'Leary. Here are excerpts:

Respond2 recently announced that it has formed a new media division. Can you give us some examples of how you are helping direct response advertisers integrate new media strategies with their DRTV campaigns?

We have launched both audio and video podcasts for some of our entertainment-based clients, and are currently working on shooting and developing custom instruction or entertainment-based video podcasts for other clients.

We've launched an "entertainment-based" syndicated radio program that drives listeners to a Web site. It started off using Johnny Carson content -- we did a two-minute drive-time spot that we offered free as free content to "oldies" stations. Listeners could then get a sample DVD. We've just produced 60- and 120-second drive-time "moments" with Rodney Dangerfield. Currently, the program is on between 30 and 40 stations nationwide, and we expect it will be syndicated on 150 stations by the end of the year.

We are also repurposing DRTV footage into compelling Web footage to increase sales and are currently in the planning stage on Web productions designed to increase online sales. We launch and manage blogs for clients, and we currently have a major media test in conjunction with TiVo.

We also do Web-based consumer research for clients with consumers that have responded to DRTV initiatives, and have taken infomercial footage and repurposed it into response DVDs for use in over 20 foreign countries.

Recently we did a major Web-driving initiative through McDonald's for Yourself Fitness

Respond2 works mainly with brand advertisers, or those who are seeking to build a brand. Can you tell us about some successful DR campaigns you've created for companies who previously only used traditional advertising methods?

Philips Electronics was one of the brand innovators in using DRTV. They were a client of mine as far back as 1991 when I was still at Tyee. Companies like P&G (also clients of ours) and Clorox got into DRTV as a result of the success of Oxyclean. Over the last year we have done a lot of work with America Online and Netscape using an acquisition model for their broadband products. We did a really unusual and funny infomercial for MTV for their Beavis and Butthead DVDs. It was a 30-minute show that was a spoof of an infomercial with Billy Dee Williams as the host honoring various showbiz celebrities including Beavis and Butthead. It's actually good entertainment as well as being an infomercial.

We have campaigns in development for several other major brands that we can't talk about at this point.

A single customer buying five times is worth more than five new "one-time" purchases is one of your firm's "Rules to Respond2." What advice do you give clients regarding the choice of fulfillment companies and customer service, so that they don't lose customers on the backend?

A successful DRTV campaign requires full and successful integration of the following components: creative, offer, media, response management (telemarketing and Web), and fulfillment and customer service

So, from our perspective, fulfillment and customer service are essential components of the campaign. When done incorrectly, they result in lost orders, which bring the entire pyramid down. Clients who have done direct response in other formats like telemarketing and mail shots but have never done DRTV don't always understand the huge spikes that an infomercial can bring. They might have their own in-house call center with 50 to 100 seats that they keep open five to eight hours a day and are resistant to the idea of using an outside response management firm. We tell them that they'd need to keep the call center open 24/7 and ask how they'd cope with 2,000 phone calls in five minutes, which is the kind of traffic a DRTV spot could bring.

Another problem is when corporate policy is to drive customers to the company's main Web site rather than to a unique URL that brings the customer right to the offer with on a trackable splash page. Often, the main Web site isn't really geared for DRTV purposes. With about 50 percent of DRTV customers going straight to the Web these days, we like to encourage our clients to be open-minded, and to at least commit to having a unique URL for the testing phase of a spot.

Vanity 800 numbers are another problem, because it makes it difficult to track the effectiveness of a spot. The key to creating a successful DRTV campaign is for me to be able to tell you the next day what happened today.

It is essential that clients match the fulfillment center to the flow of the campaign, as opposed to just using existing resources. DRTV drives great volume and has peculiarities that a client might not normally experience.

You won the only Clio award that has ever been awarded for an infomercial. Can you tell us a little about that?

That goes back a long time to when I was still at Tyee, as Clio discontinued giving awards for infomercials well over 10 years ago. I think we won in around 1992 or '93. At the time we were doing a lot of "storymercials" -- which were very high-end hybrids of infomercials -- storyline-driven plots. We still do them sometimes, but they were very popular then. We won a Gold Clio for a storymercial we did for a product called the Gravity Edge, which was a weight training machine.

I got the idea for the storymercial when the client showed me the product. I was in New York. The client and his wife rode their motorcycles to the office on a Saturday morning and proceeded to demonstrate the product while wearing leather motorcycle garb. I got the idea to create a fictional storyline about a motorcycle racer that for different reasons needed to work out on the Gravity Edge.

The end result was probably the most unusual infomercial ever done. [It] started with a motorcycle crash, there was a lot of sexual tension, incredible bodies, etc, really high production standards. Roger Thompson directed it, Kevin Cole wrote it, and it is still probably my favorite infomercial ever. The nicest part of the story is that it was a huge hit and sold tens of millions in machines. The client was overjoyed.

Reach Mr. O'Leary at toleary@respond2.com

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