MC Direct Gets Chicago's Shedd Aquarium Membership Drive Biz

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The John G. Shedd Aquarium, the world's largest indoor aquarium, named MC Direct Inc., Chicago, to handle its membership acquisition campaign for this year.


An estimated four agencies pitched for the $150,000 account, which previously was handled by MSGI, New York.


"The strategy for this account is to increase the membership and for a larger strategic view to help them penetrate new markets and also help them retain their relationship with existing members," said Ray Ellis, the San Diego-based president/CEO and co-founder of MC Direct.


Dan Skoglund, the MC Direct account manager who will oversee the aquarium account from the agency's Chicago office, agreed. But acquisition will be the focus for now.


"Strictly speaking, from a program perspective, the No. 1 challenge is to increase membership," he said. "That's their first goal. The second goal is to create a very positive and attractive image of the Shedd Aquarium to the general audience that receives this communication."


The Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, has received more than 100 million visitors since opening in 1930. It displays Australian lungfish, turtles, penguins, octopus, sharks, electric eels, dolphins and whales. Work has begun to add two new exhibits - Amazon Rising: Seasons of the River and Indo-Pacific coral reefs.


The brief now is "to increase their acquisition rate, which is lagging, and to bring strategy to matching their message with their audience, which again was lacking," Skoglund said.


MC Direct will offer creative direction, list strategy and procurement, program management, database development and management and an array of production services.


The first direct mail drop of 160,000 pieces goes out the week of April 16. Areas targeted include northwest Illinois, southeast Wisconsin and northwest Indiana. These markets are within an hour's drive from Chicago.


"We've segmented the audience, and we've segmented the message," Skoglund said.


Besides reaching out to above-average-income families that have breadwinners ages 35 to 55 with children younger than 14, MC Direct also will tap corporate prospects.


"We've tweaked our strategy, and their message can be tweaked in a number of ways," Skoglund said. "As opposed to a retail approach, future plans take a look at tapping into the more philanthropic areas of the market because [the Shedd Aquarium does] actively provide some great research and scientific findings in marine biology."


MC Direct snared the account because of its experience in serving nonprofit clients in their membership acquisition efforts. These clients include the American Indian College Fund and the Smithsonian Institution Contributing Membership Program, accounts still held by the shop.


The agency roster also includes Microsoft Corp., Bank of America, Intuit and Lucent Technologies. Based in San Diego, the 14-year-old agency has offices in Chicago, Dallas, Costa Mesa, CA, and Virginia Beach, VA. Billings last year were $30 million.


In other news, MC Direct beat three agencies to win two direct marketing response programs for financial services firm Wells Fargo and Co. The wins are worth an estimated $400,000.


The agency is charged with creating packages and execution right through mailing for Wells Fargo's Home Equity and Personal Lines and Loans programs.


"They've asked us to come in and develop new creative strategy and take over the execution of both programs," said Scott Hopkins, San Diego-based executive vice president, partner and co-founder at MC Direct. "We can do that better by raising response rates and improving cost efficiencies."


For the home equity business, MC Direct will create an online component that lets consumers fill out applications on the Web. For personal loans, the agency has installed an 800 number and will mail pieces.


"The strategy is, we're trying to identify some sweet spots within the market segments," Hopkins said.


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