Seeking an advantage in advertising

Computer program speeds creative process

October 29, 2001|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Chris Cotter has an affinity for old things. His home in historic Ellicott City, built in the 1850s, has a castle-like tower overlooking the town, and the office for his advertising and marketing firm was built as a mill in 1822.

But when it comes to the age-old creative process of brainstorming to come up with advertising ideas for clients, he looks to technology for help.

Cotter Integrated, Cotter's Ellicott City firm, has created a Web-based program designed to automate and streamline the advertising process for the company and its clients. The program, called Process-driven Brand Integration, is intended to help Cotter Integrated to do more for clients, and do it better and faster.

"It gives us an advantage," Cotter said. "This tool allows us to do things very, very quickly. Usually the thing about doing things quickly is you have to accept a smaller range of ideas, but in fact, this allows you more ideas."

PBI, the new program, deals with four aspects of the process that advertisers can use to help develop and track advertising packages: research and market strategy, brainstorming, choosing media and project management.

While there are several computer programs that can do some of those functions - tracking a project, for example - what makes Cotter's system different is the brainstorming application, which helps push the creative process along more quickly, he said.

The system is based on a list of the most effective ideas Cotter has collected, and it provides a series of prompts to help advertisers churn out ideas for any given product.

That makes last-minute advertising projects simpler to handle, he said, because the program allows the staff to generate ideas almost overnight.

It also gives detailed instructions on handling a project, down to what to look for in checking a printer's proof. Another feature of the program allows clients to see the progress of their advertising campaign online - a feature that some clients are looking forward to.

"You're always trying to find out where you are at a phase in your marketing," said John Nader, a client who is expecting to use the system for a springtime ad campaign for his company, Inc.

"When you can get data immediately, it helps," he said. "It's really a stage of being more of a partner than a contractor with us."

If the program is successful, Cotter said, he might market it to other advertising firms.

Cotter needs an advantage in today's business climate. The fall of dot-coms and the stock market slide has driven advertising revenues lower and caused layoffs in several Baltimore-area firms.

Cotter Integrated, founded in 1980, is still a very small firm, with six employees and about 20 clients. Cotter hopes to expand the firm to 15 employees by 2003.

Introducing this program may be a key to that growth, according to Ariane Herrerra, a spokeswoman for the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

"Right now, agencies should be doing what they can to set themselves apart," she said. "We're going to commend anyone who's coming out with new products."

This is not the first foray for Cotter Integrated into designing computer programs. The agency, which also does lobbying and Web site development, has produced an online tool for the Mortgage Bankers Association that generates automated reports that the group can pass on to members of Congress, showing how Federal Housing Administration money is being used in their districts.

Cotter came up with the idea for PBI after searching unsuccessfully for project management software to meet his needs. Staff members developed the program in-house over three years, and the group has been using parts of the software for clients along the way.

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