ICE is a response to market demand

Recently, two sister companies, The Multiple Images Group, a Toronto corporate communications firm, and Milestone, an entertainment production company, formally merged into one operational whole.The new entity is called ICE Integrated Communications and Entertainment.The new company's structure - including an investment...

Recently, two sister companies, The Multiple Images Group, a Toronto corporate communications firm, and Milestone, an entertainment production company, formally merged into one operational whole.

The new entity is called ICE Integrated Communications and Entertainment.

The new company’s structure – including an investment of about $1 million in a modern multimedia lab – reflects the growing interconnection between the once separate disciplines of corporate and consumer communications, ice’s founders say.

In an interview with Strategy, ice President Doug Keeley describes some of the factors leading up to the creation of ice and how the company intends to pursue the emerging world of interactivity and multimedia.

he drive behind our decision came directly from the market.

There’s a lot of activity out there, and we’ve been involved in it through two separate businesses, one in entertainment and one in corporate communications.

More and more, through technological advances in the digital world, we’ve seen these two disciplines come together.

We’ve seen it in the form of corporate clients who have been coming to us trying to find ways to use Internet, cd-rom and cd-i as a means of reaching their customers or their own people in better ways.

At the same time, the entertainment-based people are asking what they can do with this new technology. How do they use it?

Recently, a lot of the business that have come to us from both the entertainment and corporate side are clients who simply want to jump in to integrated multimedia projects.

They come to us because we have been doing the work, and they also like the idea of having all the disciplines under one roof: people who can do high-end television, multimedia and events for from 100 to 5,000 people.

That’s the market basis for ice. We are simply responding to demand in a proactive way. We have a unique set of skills in an advanced technological environment.

Putting the two companies together is important also in what it means internally. There’s no longer a feeling of ‘them and us’ in two companies. Now we can think together and move forward because we’re all thinking in terms of integrated communications and entertainment.

That’s important because as people from both sides begin thinking and working together, we begin exploiting opportunities that we’ve been missing – and, our clients have been missing – because the focus has been too narrow.

Suddenly, it means that clients, as well, begin to see and think in terms of integrating entertainment with corporate communications. Having them physically together helps break down some of the barriers that may still exist in some people’s minds.

There really are no companies in the advertising business that I can think of who have tried to position themselves as a creative resource designed to function in this current environment of communications chaos and turmoil.

So, that’s where we come in. We see a lot of clients wondering, and sometimes stumbling, and yet we don’t see many other companies structuring themselves to help these clients out.

In terms of media, we have no bias. We can work in any environment. We can provide high-end technology solutions, or a piece of print.

Most of the creative coming out of here is done by more than one person. The strength of what we do is in its multi-disciplinary approach. There are writers, designers, account directors and technology people. All have something to bring to the project.

omeone described us recently as the first real convergence agency. That’s an interesting title, and an interesting way of describing who we are.

There’s such a crossover of stuff going on out there electronically, as well as the convergence of different kinds of communication in which there will need to be a powerful entertainment component to cut through the clutter and to keep you interested.

With the possible exception of video games, people who are selective with the way they use their time are going to gravitate towards the communication that has some meat to it, certainly in the world that we operate in.

would say that the biggest problem we face right now, as a company, is finding good people, especially for the electronic multimedia part of the operation. Basically, the digital electronic media product.

Finding good designers and programmers has been our biggest challenge so far, because it’s all so new. There’s no place where people can learn this right now.

The hardest people to find are people who can design interactive product for the computer. It requires someone who has a very strong sense of design, but who can think in three, four or five other dimensions.

Instead of thinking in terms of a simple still visual, all the stuff we’re doing requires a whole new set of skills including video and sound, and, therefore, different kinds of story-telling skills.

And, as I said, there’s nowhere to learn this right now, except, I suppose, on the job.

e have to put a company together that’s part creative people and part byte-head.

In many ways, these are almost opposite people. Creative people being right brain, typically, and the byte-heads being much more typically left brain.

There’s always been that kind of necessity in commercial communications, that mix of art and science. But the computer has taken it to a whole new dimension.

or clients, many face the challenge of not having the computer and information networks set up in their own organizations to allow them to take full advantage of what’s available.

People don’t buy what they don’t understand, or, at least, they won’t think about it. And if they don’t understand or even think about multimedia executions, then they don’t see the opportunities that they may be missing.

Which is not to say that there aren’t a whole group of clients who are taking advantage of the technology.

There are many big brand clients who are coming at this multimedia world, typically, with one, overriding motive: ‘How can I get in on this cd-rom, multimedia world, and use it to build my brand?’

The two kinds of clients I see embracing the new media are the big technology companies for whom technology is not intimidating, and the big packaged goods marketers who are accustomed to trying new ways of getting their brands in front of people.

hat still has to sink in for many people is that we are not talking about some futuristic thing here. A lot of this is here and now. There are some 25 million people on the Internet.

It is the information highway, and it’s up and running. It may not be at the stage where it can carry full-motion video or graphics yet, but it soon will be.

There are people around the world who are doing nothing but spending their days and nights talking to other people, and sending images and down-loading film clips from Hollywood. It’s very real for them.

The huge impact of word-of-mouth on potential sales is just one thing that marketers should be thinking about – today.

What are these people who are talking on the Internet saying about various products or services? You can bet that when they find good stuff, they talk about it.

This may be strictly anecdotal, but I can tell you that in our company we think nothing of jumping onto the ‘Net and asking people out there if they’ve heard of something, or what they think of something. It’s become second nature.

And, while this may not be directly connected to marketing, it’s an interesting question: what is all of this going to do to our notion of democracy?

Here are millions of people talking to each other, today, who were never able to talk before because of geography, space, time, race, religion … any of those things.

We’re looking at a global town hall, and it’ll be interesting to see how the influencers – politicians, as well as marketers, respond to this.

e’ve been working with the Telcos here for a quite a few years. Meetings, videos, multimedia, brochures. The point is they’ve been talking about this for years and years. Getting the networks up to the stage where they could send video over them.

So, we’ve been part of this and have talked about it for years. There’s a computer on every desk in this building. This world is just second nature for us.

Only time will overcome the problem for the techno-phobes. People will learn as they want to and need to. Someone who doesn’t understand the technology, but recognizes that a business opportunity may be missed if they don’t learn and will find a way to deal with it.

he real important issue that we’ll all be dealing with soon is what kind of filters we’ll have in place to sort through all this.

It’s impossible to keep up with everything that comes in to any office on any given day. There are going to be significant opportunities for people to get in there and build filters that really work and help people sort out what they need to know.

Secondly, like any other piece of commercial communications, quality is going to be the differentiating factor.

Take a look at all the cd-rom titles out there – 8,000, I’ve heard, and in only a few years. But, there are probably fewer than 100 titles that are any good.

So, there’s a lot of junk already, and that means the quality stuff is standing out already, whether it’s on a disc or it’s information that you’re downloading. It still has to have a certain creative apppeal.

The need for true quality creative is going to become greater and greater, as the volume of material increases and consumer demand for sophisticated product continues to grow.

nd consumer demand is growing, especially among a group the industry has coined ‘techno-savvies.’ This group is reasonably well-to-do and not technologically paranoid. Convenience, education and entertainment are important to them.

These are the people, typically, who live in the big urban centres, and who are concerned about being computer-literate both for themselves and for their children.

I would guess that people outside these centres will take a much longer time to embrace the information highway.

Yet, on another level, the new media has already penetrated a huge mass market beyond the upscale demographic I’ve just described. The game business, for example, is bigger than Hollywood. That’s a fact.

So, if you sell Pepsi or Nike shoes, you already have a huge mass market that is ready to receive your message in a multimedia environment.

There are cd catalogues and online catalogue services right now that I would guess a great many advertisers would like to be using, even if their first efforts might be a little clumsy.

They should be there right now, exploring and producing.

No one is ‘there’ yet. Not even us. We’re all learning.

The stage we’re at today is still formative, and we’re still facing a significant period ahead of a lot of experimentation on the part of everybody, the client, the person creating the message and the people receiving it.