Maverick Irish DM Agency Sacks Clients, Wins Prizes

DUBLIN – Gary Brown’s Target Marketing is not your run of the mill DM agency, not even in Ireland where things tend to be different. Brown fires clients he doesn’t like, including US credit card giant MBNA.

“They came to Ireland and thought they could just superimpose what they did in the UK on Ireland,” Brown said. “They ended up getting work they wanted rather than what was right. But there’s no point paying us if they won’t listen to us. They won’t get results.

“So we fired them before they could fire us. We shake people up. We made a decision years ago to grow our business better rather than bigger, to focus on clients who would appreciate strategically focused DM and who understood where we were coming from.

“Of course we bend over backwards to keep clients happy, but there comes a point where you can’t do any more and if we get clients on the phone shouting and roaring and making our people cry we sack them.

“We always had an attitude. Perhaps we have a reputation for arrogance. Why should you take s— from a client or from anybody else. But by virtue of that strategy we actually got bigger.”

Target Marketing has a growing reputation here for creative work. It won an echo in Toronto at last year’s DMA conference for a Guinness campaign, and a best in Europe gold award at the Strasbourg FEDMA forum.

“Last year we won 11 out of 22 DM awards in Ireland,” Brown said without undue modesty. His shop is more of a maverick than most in a maverick industry.

Five years ago he had offices in the dock area along the Liffey, in one of the scrubbier parts of Dublin. He ran a billboard company on the side and the burly lads who toted the signs got the message: Let anyone break into the office and they’d lose their jobs. Nobody did.

Today Brown has moved into a more gentrified dockland area and expanded well beyond the financial services area that was his core business in the mid-90s. He still owns the billboard company but doesn’t need the protection.

“The billboard company focuses on street business and on the youth culture. We flip in products on billboards that have direct response numbers and attract a younger audience.”

The young are a particular target for Irish DM. Brown’s firm collects “as many e-mail addresses as we can to track the student market. Students move around from address to address, so they are hard to contact by snail mail, so we use e-mail.

“Everybody from banks to beer and back again is out on a recruitment binge to hit the young market” and the Internet is a big help. The Web is having a growing impact in Ireland where software writing companies are growing.

Still, Brown worries that as “direct marketers we are in danger of letting the Internet pass us by. We have to use it more. If we don’t embrace and utilize it, it will pass us by just as CRM passed by traditional ad agencies.”

Target Marketing, like the other major DM agencies in Dublin – there are about 10 that count – has moved into fast moving consumer goods and into the newly deregulated telecoms area.

“We’re doing a huge amount of work for Guinness and we’re promoting something I love – we’re promoting beer and getting a lot of samples doing it.” The work, he added, is a mix of DM and sales promotion.

“The Guinness portfolio has 20 products so we build relationships with people around beer products. Guinness sponsors great events so you can link the area they sponsor with the beer drinker.

Like others, Brown believes much of the change in DM is due to the booming Irish economy. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” he said. But immigration has played a role, along with education, a new confidence and a European outlook.

Education, which was reformed decades ago, has begun to pay off big with a trained workforce. “Our defensive isolation is gone,” he said.” We stopped looking to England for direction and have begun to look down on the English rather than the other way around.”

Ireland has adopted the euro while Britain has not. The Irish punt is worth a lot less than sterling and Irish products have become more competitive.

“Prosperity brings a sense of worth and of self confidence,” he said, “of, ‘Hey, we achieved something and we’ve done it on our own.’ “

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