UPromise Names Hill, Holliday for Direct

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Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston, has been named to handle direct marketing for UPromise Inc., a college-savings network that soon will launch to help families save for their children's higher education.


Three agencies pitched for UPromise's business. Billings were not disclosed, though it is part of a $30 million budget for all marketing communications.


Hill, Holliday's direct marketing effort will break in first-quarter 2001 to coincide with UPromise's launch. It also runs in conjunction with advertising from UPromise shop McCann-Erickson WorldGroup, New York.


"Our brief to them is to help us identify consumers who are likely prospects to become members and join UPromise's college-savings network," said Judy Fearing, chief marketing officer at UPromise, Brookline, MA.


Consumers enroll with UPromise on its Web site at www.upromise.com or by mail. They then can spend with companies participating in the program. These partners could be retailers, manufacturers or service providers -- online and offline.


When consumers spend with these partners, they get a rebate. Once these rebates meet a minimum requirement set by UPromise's financial partners, consumers select one of those partners to open a tax-advantaged college-savings account with and name a beneficiary to receive the contribution. The financial partners include Salomon Smith Barney, Fidelity Investments and Merrill Lynch & Co.


"Consumers don't have to think about their spending or savings when they enroll with us," said Liz Carpenter, director of public relations at UPromise. "We automatically track their rebates through their credit card activity offline and online."


"For partner companies, this is a very good way to form deep, loyal relationships with their consumers and generate repeat business," Fearing said.


Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, is a participating sponsor, though UPromise declined to disclose other names. Investors such as General Atlantic Partners, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Greylock, General Catalyst and Charles River Ventures have contributed $34 million in first-round funding in UPromise.


Fearing sees a critical need for a service like UPromise.


"Consumers are facing staggering costs to send their children to college," she said. "Most consumers are going to take on an enormous amount of debt. It's the No. 1 stay-awake issue for American families."


The company cited a recent study by Hart Research Associates, Washington, that claims 82 percent of U.S. residents think a college education is getting out of reach. The cost of education at a private university has more than doubled from 1979 to 1999 even after accounting for inflation.


On average, sending two children to private college costs nearly $189,000, according to the College Board, New York. Sending them to public college costs $87,000. Yet, the average family's net worth, barring the value of the home, is only $21,000.


UPromise estimates that a family can save more than $50,000 over 15 years by spending with partners allied with the company.


Hill, Holliday is still crafting a direct marketing media plan for the account but it will include traditional and interactive components.


"Our strategy will be a reach strategy," said Laurel Rossi, executive vice president at Hill, Holliday. "We will want to talk to those folks with school-age kids by using partner marketing."


"We're just in the planning phases," Rossi said, "[but] the mix between using nontraditional channels like partners and entertainment venues and inclusive of direct mail and opt-in e-mail will be in front of our mind."


Another charge entrusted to the agency is participating in forming the partner or sponsor strategy.


"The concept of saving for children's education is not so entrenched as 401K," Rossi said. "The challenge of getting this is to have many partners, big companies, participate in the program. I think getting big brands like Coca-Cola to cooperate really is a revolution."


Part of the Interpublic Group of Companies Inc., Hill, Holliday is a full-service agency that boasts billings of an estimated $1 billion. It also has offices in New York and San Francisco. Interpublic also owns McCann.


The agency offers services such as advertising, consulting, relationship and database marketing, interactive, design, media buying and planning, and promotions. Clients include priceline.com, Advanced Micro Devices, Fidelity Investments, Dunkin' Donuts, Minolta, Fleet Bank, Cisco Systems and John Hancock Financial.


Hill, Holliday's experience in loyalty promotions and pushing big brands gave it an edge, Fearing said. The agency is aware of the task ahead.


"The brief from the UPromise client is twofold," Rossi said. "One of them is that we're now using technology, marketing and obviously a social message to bring something new to the marketplace.


"Can Hill, Holliday announce this to families across America, and how do we get the word out there to ones that are most desirous of funding college?" she said. "Second part is, how do we engage all possible channels -- every possible marketing vehicle -- to engage this audience?"
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