Profile: Mullen’s Secret Weapon

Although Mullen is known for creative excellence, its handling of online advertising may be its lasting legacy.

With online advertising becoming a very specialized but relatively small portion of most media plans, ad agencies continue to struggle to find the best way to deal with this new medium. To find one model that might be the prototype of how online media is handled in the future, look no further than the Wenham, Mass.-based Mullen Group.

Mullen’s approach is to fully incorporate interactive planning and buying within its media department, where it is considered just another medium, receiving its appropriate share of dollars. But unlike other media in the agency, online is still so new and full of nuances that Mullen brought in a top-flight media professional who previously ran entire online divisions to handle its small, integrated online staff. Watch more agencies adopt this method soon.

The Mullen Group, a company of IPG, has continually set trends throughout its 30 years, primarily through its award-winning creative work, which has helped fuel agency billing growth from $254 million in 1998 to $640 million in 2001. However, it was also during this stretch that dot-coms began throwing around crazy money trying quickly to establish name recognition and market share, and Mullen (through Monster.com) was happy to grab some of those dollars.

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Mullen also realized during this period that online had become an established ad medium that needed discipline and expertise to execute, so in mid-2000, it brought in Seana Mulcahy as vice president, director of interactive media. Mulcahy has been involved in creating online brands since 1994 and has built and managed online media services divisions for Carat, AGENCY.COM, Arnold Worldwide, Digital Equipment, and Anysoft, Inc. “I’ve been at pure play interactive shops, on the traditional side, and on the client side,” says Mulcahy. “I fit in so many places because I understand both geek speak and what a GRP is.”

Of all of her career stops, Mulcahy is finding Mullen to be the right place at the right time. “The industry trend is to be at a place where you can be close to the strategy and the creative. The industry needs to go back to the basics, such as how do you build a brand. Mullen is great at this,” she says. However, like many creative-driven agencies, media can often take a backseat in the process. “Media isn’t a last thought at Mullen; it is in sync with creative,” says Mulcahy. “All departments are in the same room when we discuss creative, and because creative is spontaneous, we often do business in the halls.”

Another thing that sets Mullen apart is the culture that anyone can contribute to an idea. Mulcahy says, “Every person who works at Mullen is charged with finding ways to do something better. Everyone here is an entrepreneur. We empower people just starting out or who are 15-year agency veterans. I just love that here.”

Mullen is a full-service agency that provides advertising, PR, direct marketing, field marketing, strategic planning, and interactive marketing. Because of its suburban roots (the agency is 25 miles outside of Boston), Mullen has developed a unique culture that is imparted to each employee through six core values — do great work, be relentlessly creative, assume collective entrepreneurialism, have honest engagement, be willing to embrace change, and have a love of winning. “Mullen has a philosophy of distinction, respect, and success for our clients that permeates the entire agency,” says Mulcahy.

Additionally, over the years, Mulcahy has refined her own personal set of values for connecting with the online consumer that she stresses to her staff. “First, it is not about technology, it is about the consumer. Second, it is not about tracking, it is about performance. Third, it is not just about content, it is about context as well. Fourth, interruptions aren’t effective, interactions are. Fifth, if it is not more convenient, it is not worth doing. Sixth, it is not about form, it is about function. Lastly, it is not about impressions, it is about time spent.”

Mulcahy’s values for connecting with the customer is exemplified by Mullen’s campaign to drive tune-in for Evolution, public television station WGBH’s controversial new mini-series that aired in September 2001. Working with a small budget, Mullen developed “virtual roadblocks,” a method to own every ad on the page, on Yahoo!, AOL, and its partnering sites. To increase the contextual relevance of the advertising, it placed the ads in the health, fashion, and entertainment sections of these sites.

The agency created several provocative messages to maximize the impact of the campaign. “We had ads that showed a caveman evolving into a modern man over the course of a few days,” says Mulcahy. “It really communicated the essence of the program.” Scheduling was key as well. “We ran 16 million impressions within the targeted channels and condensed the flight dates to four days, launching just two days prior to airing,” says Mullen. “This really increased the campaign impact. We also used geo-targeting through third-party ad servings and wireless marketing programs with AvantGo to focus on DMAs where tune-in was available. In the end, we were able to effectively drive traffic to customized jump pages with show snapshots and specific air times and content information.” Evolution was the fall of 2001’s top opening Monday broadcast on public television.

In addition to its headquarters in Massachusetts, Mullen has offices in Winston-Salem, N.C.; Pittsburgh; and Detroit. Its interactive marketing services include online media planning, buying, tracking and optimizing, email marketing, search engine optimization, and strategy consulting. Clients include Nextel, Genuity, GM, GM Card, Sealy and Stearns and Foster, Wachovia Bank, Oxygen, Learning Tree, JRAP, Lowe’s Home Products, Stanley Tools, Federated, Eddie Bauer, Stop & Shop, T J Maxx, and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.

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