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Ad men target '24/7' audience


When Chuck Donofrio heard about the ABC News documentary "Hopkins 24/7," he decided to do something that hadn't been tried before in his shop's 36 years of business.

Donofrio, president and chief executive officer of Richardson, Myers & Donofrio Inc., a Baltimore-based advertising and public relations firm, bought eight television spots on the show to promote the interactive component of his business.

"We looked at this as a media event for Baltimore, where very large numbers of people here would tune in," he said. "There would be people who could specifically recommend us to do Web work." Indeed, in the Baltimore region, "24/7," appearing on WMAR (Channel 2), drew about 24 percent of all the households watching television during its debut show Aug. 30.

Donofrio said the ads, touting Carton Donofrio Interactive, paid for themselves early on. The firm landed a consulting and Web design contract with a professional business services firm based in Baltimore, valued at between $50,000 and $75,000. The eight 15-second spots cost $10,000 to run, he said. So far, the commercials have generated five other solid leads, Donofrio said.

"Smart buy," said David L. Blum, a vice president with Eisner Communications, another Baltimore-based advertising and public relations firm.

"The flip side is, no matter how good a deal it is, it's still a business-to-business proposition," he said. "Any time you use a mass medium like TV, there's the opportunity for some waste. They're reaching a lot of extra people who wouldn't be in their target audience."

Donofrio said he knows that's true, but he also said it's worth the cost to reach nearly his entire target audience in one swipe.

"In some ways it's wasteful because there's such a small percentage of the audience that could ever buy a Web site from us," Donofrio said. "But we didn't mind that, we wanted to gain some notoriety. Maybe there are 2,000 people in Baltimore who could specify a Web site from us. While our audience is a very small portion of the total audience watching the Hopkins special, we're reaching virtually all of them."

The commercials describe a new media age in which consumers are in control, and recommend Donofrio's company as the one with the best tools to help businesses deal with the changing world.

Although advertisers traditionally do not promote themselves, except perhaps in trade publications or by direct mail, that is changing. Emerging agencies are a hybrid - a combination of interactive media with traditional advertising - and they see value in aggressive marketing, Donofrio said.

Faster purchase cycle

In the past, traditional agencies have considered a good public relations presence the best means of promotion. But that was in the days when the average time between agency switches was five years and when a final selection came after agencies were eliminated from a predictable list of about 20 names, Donofrio said.

These days, in the interactive world, the purchase cycle is much shorter, he said.

"You need to be top of mind," he said. "The way companies are buying these services is a lot different from how they choose ad agencies. They call a few that they've heard of, and they make the decision quickly."

Interactive media is not far from hitting mainstream - considered about 50 million users, according to Neil J. Kleinman, a professor of English and communications design at the University of Baltimore.

About 44 million users

It has achieved about 44 million users already, he said. For comparison, it took 38 years for radio to get 50 million users, and 12 years for television to reach that point. The Internet attained 50 million users within four years, he said.

"Advertising agencies are trying to find their space in the old medium, preparing that medium and its audience for the kinds of messages and strategies they'll be using," Kleinman said. "You'd be foolish to wait and be the last one in."

Competition may increase

As interactive media grow in popularity, RM&D; and others can expect to see the competitive environment heat up.

"You want to have your brand recognition, so you don't have to catch up," Kleinman said. "It's a way to place yourself in the new context. You look both hipper and more conventional, because you're no longer a surprise to the audience."

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