Agency Profile: i-FRONTIER

“Young, successful Internet advertising professional” sounds like an oxymoron these days. But that’s not the case with Brad Aronson, founder and president of i-FRONTIER. Armed with an entrepreneurial spirit, Aronson started i-FRONTIER from his bedroom in 1996 at age 24, and has since grown the shop into one of the largest interactive agencies in Philadelphia and the 33rd largest agency in the U.S., according to MEDIA Magazine’s January 2002 rankings.

“I have been in Philadelphia for 12 years and I love this city,” says Aronson. “When I was just starting out it was a little tough because Philadelphia is outside the hub of the Internet world, so there were fewer networking opportunities and not as many colleagues to bounce ideas off. However, it’s a great place to recruit staff because there are so few interactive agencies in the city to compete against and Philly has such an easier pace than New York. We’d like our people to have a life outside work, which is one of the goals of the agency.”

Aronson believes empowering his staff strengthens the entire agency. Team members have implemented successful ideas including a brown bag lunch series, where on a regular basis staff present client success case studies to other colleagues, encouraging communication and sharing of knowledge. A mentoring program was established at i-FRONTIER that matches people with particular skills with less experienced co-workers. When not moving the agency forward, Aronson explores his passion for writing, which has produced the book — Advertising on the Internet — (co-authored with Robin Zeff), now in its second edition. “I love writing and always wanted to write a book. It’s certainly helpful for new business when you can give a copy to everyone at the pitch. It has also become a training book for new hires,” said Aronson.

Although a third edition is not in the works just yet, Aronson gave a preview of what he believes advertising on the Internet will look like in the near future. “Online advertising will become more of a medium that the target audience controls. When advertisers use print or TV, they are pushing the message to the consumer. With online the advertiser must strive to provide value in their offering to consumers and not solely focus on delivering a message, or a consumer won’t respond. Looking down the road, creative will improve with increases in bandwidth, but the need to provide value to the consumer won’t change. Also we will finally see the merging of TV and the Internet, which will provide greater interaction and offer more opportunities for advertisers.”

Aronson has always had an eye on the future. “In 1994, I was the marketing manager of CTDNews, and in 1995 I first started using the Internet as a marketing tool to drive subscriptions,” he recounts. “It was the most exciting part of my job — exploring new tactics and opportunities online.” Aronson says he saw the enormous potential of the Internet and left CTDNews in February of 1996 to start i-FRONTIER, which was the only interactive agency in Philadelphia at that time. “I did everything I could to promote the company,” he says. “I went to Chamber of Commerce meetings, wrote articles for interactive newsletters, spoke at online conferences. In fact, it was speaking at the Thunder Lizard Conference that got us noticed and subsequently led to getting our first two significant clients — the Book of the Month Club and Star Trek Universe.”

From there, the growth kept coming. Today i-FRONTIER is one of the biggest buyers of online media in the healthcare space. The 60-person agency had billings of $16 million in 2001. According to Aronson, 2002 is shaping up to be a good year for i-FRONTIER, with additional business coming from both new and current clients. i-FRONTIER’s focus is strictly online advertising, providing such services as media planning and buying, search engine optimization, web development, CRM, creative, measuring and analyzing campaigns, and new technologies. “Our new technology department looks at cutting-edge opportunities and determines which, if any, are appropriate for each client,” Aronson explains. “This is not a revenue-generating department, but we have it because it gives our clients an advantage to know what changes are ahead for their business.”

i-FRONTIER has a range of Fortune 500 consumer product and pharmaceutical clients including AstraZeneca, AT&T, Aventis, Schering-Plough, Universal Studios Home Video/DVD, Franklin Institute, Wyeth, Hoffmann-La Roche, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, GlaxoSmithKline, and StarMedia.

“We picked up our first pharmaceutical client in 1997 and hired several specialists to manage the account. So with the talent and experience in-house, we kept attracting more ‘pharma’ clients,” Aronson says. “It really is a specialized discipline because of strict FDA restrictions on what can and can’t be said, the unique tactics for reaching the physician marketplace, and the legal review all creative must go through. We have a staff that knows how to handle the legal review and this is a service that our clients really appreciate.

“Having pharmaceutical clients definitely sharpens our planning and buying skills,” Aronson says. “We really learned how to target based on mindset. We try to reach consumers when they are looking for information related to a disease or condition, which is when they are most likely to respond. We have greatly increased our use of content integration, because with pharmaceutical products you need to educate the target, not just brand a name or generate a quick response.”

i-FRONTIER has translated these learnings to its consumer marketing clients as well. “We’ve improved our ability to capture consumer information, educate through online, and develop relationships with consumers,” says Aronson. “Pharmaceutical marketers were some of the earliest proponents of using the Internet as a direct response and branding model, so we’ve been practicing those skills for many years.”

Contributing Editor Adam Herman can be reached at adam@mediapost.com.