AMS Interactive Media, the online planning and buying arm of partner company American Media Services (AMS), is on a mission. Led by co-founder and CEO Mark N. Dorf, AMS Interactive Media is trying to spread its mantra that the Internet needs to be considered a part of all media — just another distribution system for advertising, like TV or magazines.
“It does not help the industry to call it online and traditional media,” says Dorf in explaining why the Internet often gets shortchanged on most plans. “In the ideal world — that is, for brands with significant budgets — the Internet should be on most every plan. That goes for both branding campaigns and, especially, direct response ones.” It is this philosophy that constitutes AMS’s Total Media Solution approach.
Now three years old, AMS Interactive Media is a fairly recent player in the online media buying field (AMS has been around since 1989). But Dorf saw the power and potential of the Internet much earlier. “Back in 1995, I was hosting a Sunday evening radio talk show called Singles Minded on WWRC-AM in Washington, D.C. Knowing nothing about the Internet, I sent a blind letter to AOL wanting to see if there were any opportunities to work together. Within a short time, we became AOL’s first supplied content on relationship and dating and its most popular destination on their new Digital City property,” recounts Dorf. After “catching the bug and falling in love with the Internet,” Dorf sold sponsorships for Digital City and worked as a full-time consultant to develop new business.
Through his dealings with agencies in his new position, he quickly came to a realization. Traditional agencies had no idea how to use the Internet as an ad medium, and Web developers, the few people in this new field, had practically no marketing experience. “In 1998, I approached David and Jonathan Greenberg, the founders of AMS,” says Dorf, “and said ‘If I were you, I would quickly set up an Internet division because you are leaving money on the table.’ At the time AMS bought all the traditional media for Monster.com, but none of their online media. Although nothing happened immediately, Jon and I bumped into each other a year later and he acknowledged their need for an interactive capability. It was right after that that we started the online agency.”
Today, AMS Interactive Media accounts for about 10% of AMS’s $70 million in media billings, which would rank it in the top 50 of all interactive agencies. “We are a boutique shop,” says Dorf. “Our sweet spot is a $5 million-to-$10 million account.” It is a fairly small shop, with only 10 people in the AMS Washington, D.C., office and two people in the newly opened New York field office. “We succeed because we have seasoned professionals doing the work, not entry-level buyers making buys. We are a media management firm first; we don’t have creative or tech guys here,” says Dorf. The agency does, however, work with full-service shops like Mullen and The Martin Agency as well as creative shops, freelancers, and its clients’ in-house teams.
As media buying agencies go, AMS’s billings are certainly on the smaller side compared with heavyweights like Carat, Initiative, and Horizon. But they feel that whatever they may lack in buying clout they make up with buying smarts. “I believe in the10/80/10 rule,” says Dorf. “That is, 10% of the media marketplace is totally ignorant on how to negotiate, 80% takes whatever rate is offered, and the last 10% knows how to get the best deals because of knowledge of the marketplace and discipline in buying strategy. We fall into that last 10%. We are the grinders, the workhorses; we do the research needed to get the best rates available at the time.”
Of course, getting low rates is only one aspect of a smart media buying agency. “The cornerstones of our success are strategic planning, tenacious negotiation, and client service,” explains Dorf. “And by client service I mean to really understand our clients’ needs, both long- and short-term, and to be proactive with them.”
Along with negotiating prowess, effective media buying must include, among other elements, correct placement and targeting, two areas that are illustrated in a variety of buys that AMS Interactive Media has done for one of its clients, uDate.com, over the past three years. Early on, when uDate.com was a new online dating service and barely known in the U.S. market, AMS was asked to increase brand name recognition and lower the overall cost per acquisition of new registered members. What AMS did was develop a full-scale interactive effort to drive registrations using a variety of portals, networks, and destination sites. Utilizing optimization technology, the agency further identified key performing opportunities such as listings on Google and Yahoo!, Gator pop-ups, and business development deals.
As a result, within two months uDate.com went from 2,000 to 6,000 registrations daily. It dramatically reduced the cost per acquisition by identifying the appropriate sites and continually optimizing the campaign. Consequently, uDate.com has become the number two online dating service in the world, spending a third of what its major competition lays out in advertising dollars. Today, AMS Interactive Media continues to focus on identifying and securing new scalable solutions to increase the uDate brand and paid membership by cutting business development deals and leveraging advertising through partnerships with publishers such as Knight Ridder Digital, AT&T Worldnet, and Prodigy.
AMS services include research, media planning, media negotiations and buying, trafficking, integration of interactive media strategies, promotions and event marketing, direct response, sports marketing, barter and reciprocal trade, and media tracking and post-buy analysis. Clients include uDate.com, Career Builder.com, Inventors Help Line, Dietwatch.com, Knight Ridder Digital, Tribune Interactive, Precision Tune Auto Care, REMAX Realty for the Mid-Atlantic, and the publishing houses for Tom Clancy, John Grisham, and Michael Crichton.