Friday, September 10, 1999

The Cyber Scene in Portland ~ by Mike Kingsella

The Dot Com Crazy Anti-Agency!

Earlier this week I had the chance to meet Tim O’Leary, direct response guru and CEO of start-up interactive agency Respond2. O’Leary has recently started a new company called Respond2, which specializes in dot com companies. The philosophy behind the company is a bit radical, obviously apparent upon first glance at their press kit, “Advertising’s Dirty Little Secrets – Revealed!”

O’Leary, whose background includes experience in both the software and direct response industries, is excited to be working in the interactive advertising business. His previous firm, Tyee Group, has been a wildly successful agency raking in approximately 60 million dollars of gross billings last year alone. He is the mastermind behind the Nordicflex and WebTV infomercials, and he is credited with revolutionizing the infomercial as a viable advertising format for Fortune 500 companies. Response TV Magazine has named him one of the most influential people in direct response television. Yet even with all his successes, O’Leary is still not through. He has decided to conquer the world of interactive advertising, but he is not doing it like all the rest.

“We regard much of traditional advertising as somewhat of a scam.” O’Leary stated. Taking a very direct response approach to interactive advertising, O’Leary’s goal is to create very measurable campaigns on the Internet, since – according to O’Leary – “the Internet is just another direct response channel.” He seems to be taking the gloves off – so to speak - in his battle with traditional advertisers in the interactive medium. “I like to think of us as the ‘anti-agency’”

O’Leary has assembled an all-star cast to propel the agency to success. He picked David L. Wolfe from The Vacation Store to be the new President of Respond2. Jill Watkins joins the agency as VP of Client Services from Tyee Group, where she held the position of senior account supervisor. Julie Garel is the new VP of Account Planning. Her past positions include Senior Vice President at J. Walter Thompson and W.B. Donner. Rounding out the group is David LeCompte, the new VP of Interactive Services. He comes to Respond2 from, an international product distribution site for direct response products.

“People are trying to use the old methods of advertising in an entirely new medium,” O’Leary says, “and it’s not going to work.” According to O’Leary, there will be a huge shakeout in the interactive advertising business when companies figure out that direct response is the strategy for their online campaigns.

While his ideas may sound radical, common sense rings throughout. When companies are looking at a tight advertising budget they like that they are getting direct results from their campaigns. “Companies – and especially dot com companies are having to answer to investors who want to see certain numbers at the end of the year. Direct response techniques are extremely effective.”

And while some may argue the merits of direct response vs. traditional advertising, who can argue with success? Certainly new media is bound to be the newest arena in the eternal battle between direct response and traditional advertising. Will direct response claim come out victorious over those other forms of marketing? Who knows? In any case, O’Leary has the deep understanding of direct response, software, and interactive media that it takes to be a success, regardless of who wins the war.