Sharpe Partners

Kathy Sharpe has conditioned herself to take it slow. Annual billings at her six-year-old interactive agency, Sharpe Partners, hover around $4 million, hardly placing the firm among the industry's powerhouses.

After founding the shop in 1998, Sharpe chose to focus on a handful of clients. "It's all about slow growth with major brands," Sharpe says. "It's a deliberate strategy, although I would be lying if I told you I didn't wish it would be just a little faster."

The focus on building solid relationships pays dividends. Long-term customers include Fujifilm USA, ExxonMobil, and Simply Orange Juice. Electronics retailer Circuit City became a client in 2003, followed by Yellow Tail, the Australian wine brand, and the Archdiocese of New York.

Lingering effects from the 2001 terrorist attacks curtailed the agency's growth plans, as well as those of many other interactive media firms. But Sharpe says business prospects improve by the day and 2005 looks strong. "The foot is off the brake," she says. "We fully expect to double our growth in the next year."

The agency's work is getting noticed. The Web Marketing Association recognized a Sharpe campaign for Fuji as one of 2003's best rich media efforts. Using FatBoy expandable ad units and PointRoll technology, Sharpe created a multiple-choice interactive questionnaire and a "scratch and match" contest designed to build the client's opt-in database. Fuji reported that the campaign achieved a click-through rate of 4.4 percent and increased both in-store and online camera sales.

"Just winning awards does not help us, but the campaigns they have designed for us have certainly helped our business. They don't just come at us with promotions, they present strategic concepts that pay off either in brand awareness or in the acquisition of new users for our database," says Joan Rutherford, vice president of advertising at Fujifilm USA.

"People are constantly changing their habits and finding new ways to avoid [advertising]. You have to change with them and try to keep ahead of them," says David Kegel, the agency's creative director.

Consumers may play and work online, but they live their lives offline, a fact that Sharpe says often eludes some interactive agencies and their clients. "Failing to integrate the message across all media is the biggest mistake" companies make with their interactive advertising, she says.

Another thing that bothers Sharpe is what she describes as the advertising industry's arrogance. "We sometimes think that advertising is the center of the universe, but we can never stop listening to the consumer," she says. That's one of the things Sharpe says she likes best about the interactive field.

"It requires us to go back to the consumer again and again, and that helps keep us humble," she says.

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