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Report From the Past – Di-Ann Eisnor

When the dotcom fallout threatened to drain this young marketing company of its lifeblood, it took a transfusion from an older, more experienced partner to get back on its feet.

When Di-Ann Eisnor’s clients began falling from grace last year, she didn’t retreat or raise a white flag. Instead, the 28-year-old founder of Eisnor Interactive (EI), a promotions agency for online brands, tweaked her company until it hurt. The last time Fast Company spoke with Eisnor, her New York-based firm was launching successful guerilla-marketing campaigns for such cyber brands as About.com and newyorktoday.com, a New York Times Web site. In addition to these Internet pure plays, EI’s unique street-level approach to consumers was also attracting the attention of diverse clients like Polaroid, Compaq, Reebok, and Staples.com.

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Since then, like nearly every other marketing-services company in the digital-branding space, EI has weathered a series of shakeouts that have threatened to leave the company clientless. Indeed, nearly one-third of EI’s clients have gone under in the past three years.

As the clouds gathered over Wall Street last spring, EI was busy partnering with marketing-communications giant Omnicom. Since that time, the two companies have worked together on an internal overhaul at EI. After nearly six months of collaboration with Omnicom, EI has regained its handle on the elusive technology market and its positioning therein. And Eisnor feels confident that the company is now in a position to succeed in the long haul.

Here are five lessons Eisnor learned from the trenches of a hard-fought battle.

It’s All About the Partners

In March 2000, Eisnor Interactive took a minority investment from Omnicom, a large marketing-communications company that offers a vast network of contacts, consistent counsel, and knowledge about reevaluating strategy and rethinking business plans. Eisnor went through Ominicom’s senior-management training program, which she calls one of the best corporate-learning initiatives she’s seen. Omnicom provided EI with the resources and insight it needed to realize new internal goals and maintain a sharp external focus, even in the toughest of times.

Get Some Strategy

The market correction that began last year forced EI to become more flexible and develop a new focus on strategy. “We never had to be incredibly proactive,” says Eisnor. “We were a hot company running on a good reputation, and there was more than enough money and business floating around to bring in thousands of leads a month. We literally kicked back and chose our clients.”

Today, EI struggles with the new reality of the services sector: a thinning client base and stiff competition from traditional ad agencies with larger budgets and sturdier business plans. The marketplace has also forced EI to alter its time frame and project calendars. The sprint is over; EI is now pacing itself for the marathon.

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Out With the New, In With the Old

Internal changes at EI included reworking the company’s services for the current economic climate. This restructuring wasn’t pretty, but it was essential. In the past nine months, EI scaled back areas that were losing relevance, such as the video and motion department. Jobs were lost, but the company is still standing.

Today, EI is investing its resources and talent in the strategy department. The strategy team, which includes experienced market planners and strategic developers, is focused on brand development and forward-reaching strategies for the firm. In addition, EI formed a new department dedicated solely to projecting results, conducting analysis, and developing success metrics.

“Philosophically, we always paid attention to results,” Eisnor says. “Now metrics are critical. Our clients have finally integrated their marketing, business-development, and sales efforts. In this climate, everyone is being held far more accountable.”

Getting in the Mix

To prevent a client drought, EI has diversified its portfolio. Previously, its client base consisted primarily of pure-play dotcoms and a few click-and-mortar companies, like Staples and Polaroid. Today, EI is focusing on more traditional clients looking to develop their digital strategies: Only half of EI’s current client base is Internet pure plays.

EI now hopes to teach the lessons learned by dotcoms to more traditional companies that are looking to go online. “We know how customers behave in this marketplace and how their relationship to companies has changed,” Eisnor says. “The roller-coaster ride of the past year has been tremendous for our knowledge base.”

Growing Pains

Last year left consumers cynical and exhausted from incessant advertising noise, and Eisnor says marketing firms learned a crucial lesson: “Junky companies were filling the media airwaves with a lot of bad marketing and a lot of irrelevant messages,” she says. “For too long it was the louder, the better. Or the goofier, kitschier, and kookier, the better.

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“As companies grow up, they are realizing what their specific goals are — like branding or awareness or results. Likewise, marketing companies are beginning to realize the value of relevance.”

Contact Di-Ann Eisnor via email (diann@eisnor.com).

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