In Era of CRM, FCB Direct Becomes FCBi

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True North Communications Inc.'s FCB Worldwide, Chicago, officially dissolved its FCB Direct and FCB Digital brands last week, folding both divisions into the company's new customer relationship management service, FCBi, further confirming the changing nature of direct marketing and the importance of CRM.


True North also made public the launching of FCB Worldwide's latest CRM database capability, Analytici, New York, which will work with FCBi on a global scale. Analytici's mission is to optimize the profitability of clients' businesses by "managing their relationships with their customers at every touch point." FCB Worldwide CEO Brendan Ryan made that point clear at the time of FCBi's announcement.


"Person-to-person marketing -- the essence of customer relationship management -- has long been at the core of Foote, Cone & Belding's philosophy," he said. "And FCB Worldwide is further expanding its person-to-person marketing across traditional direct marketing channels as well as the Internet with a proprietary interactive customer relationship management approach we call iCRM."


As a transformed agency with more than 850 employees, the sprouting of FCBi further entrenches CRM as the future of marketing, with focus on every inch of the consumer demand chain from the desktop to the mailbox. Plenty of other CRM makeovers have been performed in recent months, including the morphing of the venerable direct marketing agency Wunderman Cato Johnson into Impiric.


But Steve Horne, Analytici's new president, said, the "i" in FCBi means interactive, not Internet. "We're saying, anytime you are touching the customers, you are interacting. That's the brand essence we want to get across." He also noted that as a CRM offering, FCBi is being created by bringing together existing FCB resources and divisions that can point to a long track record of accomplishment.


"A lot of the other shops are developing CRM disciplines through acquisition," Horne said. "I think there's a difference there."


Perhaps, making the most of that difference will ultimately be determined by how well budding CRM-focused agencies manage their own CRM processes with clients.


"There is a real recognition that consumers are being bombarded with communications online and offline, branding messages, selling messages, banner ads," said Don White, chief marketing officer at Veridiem, a Maynard, MA-based company that helps agencies and clients measure their return on investment. "In order to compete, this means agencies have to become more holistic in their approach and communication."


Agencies are hearing a blaring call from clients, White said, one that is echoing up from the consumers themselves.


"Traditional direct marketing agencies have built their business around direct mail and DRTV," he said. "Now, all their clients are saying, 'Hey, [doing] business on the Web is where the pure direct marketing is, so why should I go anywhere else?'"


White acknowledged, though, that database marketing is a key component about which agencies know a great deal. And as a consultant who helps marketers measure their performance, White said being able to communicate and to show clients the value of exactly what you are accomplishing is more critical than ever.


"The biggest problem marketers have today is getting the right data, the right analysis and making that relationship [all work] together in a cost-effective manner," he said. "You have to put an emphasis on cause and effect."


Horne agreed. "We know we have to come across to our clients with a consistent message, especially since so many have become disengendered with old advertising processes. But many who have jumped on the [latest] Web marketing bandwagon eventually come around asking questions about managing relationships, about how to blend direct marketing with interactivity as part of the mix. This is all really about balance. Even Amazon.com is still looking at direct mail marketing as one of its channels."

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