Sunday, March 18, 2001

CoActive promises cooperation to clients

Marketing group weaves different approaches together

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

        Think of them as weavers, not quilters.

        The integrated marketing services offered by CoActive Marketing Group are designed to produce a seamless tapestry for its clients, not the patchwork that clever but loosely organized efforts can yield.

[photo] Design directors (from left) Kim Longshore, Nora A. Young and Ted Monnin help put promotions together at CoActive Marketing under the leadership of Mike Halloran, president (right).
(Tony Jones photo)
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        Speak with a typical CoActive employee and you'll find someone who's spent years developing expertise in a specialized area such as graphic design, promotion or media buying before joining the Lincoln Heights firm. Assembling a staff of experienced people who can weave their ideas and skills together means a big payoff for clients, president Mike Halloran said.

        “Clients say, "Wow — you're bringing that level of talent to work on my business?' ” he said. “We hire very few junior people. Most of our staff members have five to 20 years in the field before they come to us.”

        As a result, the group has netted several prime national customers as well as continuing with local companies such as Kahn's Hillshire Farms and Ethicon Endo-Surgery. With about 30 clients, CoActive's sales target for its next fiscal year is $17 million.

        From devising new ways to showcase Corona beer to creating interactive online pastimes for Morris the Cat, CoActive dovetails its use of every marketing medium to distill and present a client's message.

        “Our job is to help build our clients' brands,” said Matt Fenton, director of brand strategy. “Up front, we know where the client wants to go.”

        But a message, be it ever so clever, will fall flat if it's not linked to a strategic marketing plan. That's why CoActive's services are strategy-based.

        “We build core competencies in several areas,” Mr. Halloran said. “First is marketing strategy: helping clients define themselves, position their brand, design and write a strategic plan for success.”

    In today's cooking-challenged culture, companies must give consumers a reason to buy their products as well as an easy way to use them.

    Take Fresh Express, which packages ready-to-eat salad mixes. While that concept may be clear to some, many people weren't ready to try salad in a bag.

    Enter Safeway Stores, which wanted to promote its produce as part of a healthful-living package and wanted to increase its neighborhood visibility through schools.

    CoActive's Rod Taylor helped his team put together a produce promotion for Safeway and its other stores: Von's, Randall's, Carr's, Tom Thumb and Dominick's. With Fresh Express on board to promote the importance of fruits and vegetables, Mr. Taylor lined up Grimmway carrots and broccoli, Washington apples, Sunkist citrus, DelMonte bananas and pineapples, and Marzetti salad dressings.

    “The more brands you put in a promotion, the bigger the impact,” he said.

    The target audience was to be children aged 5-10. The message? “Eat like a champion.”

    CoActive turned to professional soccer players, enlisting Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Joy Fawcett, Eddie Pope, Ben Olsen and Josh Wolff to encourage youngsters to consume five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. The promotion takes place both in supermarkets and in 1,460 schools, with incentives reaching 500,000 schoolchildren.

    CoActive Marketing Group is at 9745 Mangham Drive, 577-7000 or

        Added Mr. Fenton: “We help them answer the question, "What's that place you own that none of your competitors can own?' ”

        The core competencies that support those strategies include promotional, creative and interactive.

        Currently, those talents are reinforcing Hillshire Farms' newspaper inserts by giving prospective customers a reason to buy the featured product as well as an easy way to use it. Each marketing piece highlights a locale in the United States, a festival or holiday native to that area, and a quick recipe linked to that holiday featuring a Hillshire Farms product.

        Said Mr. Halloran: “We go beyond creative design to advertising, creative marketing, creative animation and video. In the interactive area, we are taking traditional offline marketing and branding approaches to online uses. Many companies have sprouted that do only interactive marketing. We have built our competency based on traditional strategic marketing principles.”

        As a result, said Mr. Halloran, some companies have come to CoActive for one kind of help, and they stay for more.

        “Corona hired us for promotional help,” he said. “In addition, we've just developed interactive marketing for them. Star-Kist tuna hired us to do an interactive Web site initially. We've just been named the agency to do their promotional work.”

        Sometimes CoActive concepts are aimed at companies' internal systems. The agency has developed software for some clients' sales representatives, capturing on a CD all the instructions, samples and data that salespeople typically lug around in bulky binders.

        “They can read it on their laptops, download new information, and change the information every day if they need to,” Mr. Halloran said. “We would not have developed that tool had we not understood the needs within sales organizations.”

        The agency's growth has happened as a response to client needs. It began in 1973 as a graphic design studio, but 17 years ago the principals decided the agency could expand into other areas their clients would value.

        “There are benefits of using one agency, both in terms of costs and management,” Mr. Halloran explained. “We worked toward becoming an integrated marketing agency before the term was in currency.”

        In order to develop expertise and build capable staff, CoActive has had to recruit aggressively. Just in the last year, it has hired about 25 people — many from the Cincinnati area but some from as far away as Taiwan and India.

        “We're finding clients faster than we're finding people,” Mr. Halloran said.

        To compete successfully, human resources manager Nancy Draime markets CoActive culture as well as its professional portfolio.

        “We have challenging work and good brands, but people are looking for a work/life balance. The culture and fun aspect was a big driver for me,” she said.

        The pressures of creating quality products to meet client expectations (and deadlines) are relieved through team-building activities and holiday celebrations. Ms. Draime's favorite is the annual Easter egg hunt, but she's also partial to the St. Patrick's Green Food Day.

        Soon, employees may be searching for eggs or dribbling basketballs through the neighborhood. At 90 employees and counting, the agency is expanding into a second building around the corner.

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