During the summer of ’97, when my kids were 8 and 11 years old, I found myself in-between jobs.

Having just been laid off from a seemingly stable corporate communications job, I wasn’t worried because I had a very marketable skill. I had three corporate websites under my belt.

An advertising headhunter steered me to a small agency called Compelling Content, an offshoot of McCann Erickson. Founded by a former executive creative director at McCann, Compelling Content had a couple of sweet accounts, including Channel Thirteen (New York City’s public television station), Schering-Plough, and The Interpublic Group. For a few months, I filled in for an account supervisor who was on medical leave. I didn’t see my family very much because I was putting in very long but rewarding hours. And I learned a lot in a short time working with the creative team and had an absolute blast.

Remember Prodigy? If you don’t know about the company, Prodigy was one of the earliest portals (like AOL and Yahoo!), and we were invited to pitch their business. Our team developed a kick-ass pitch, and instead of presenting in-person, we posted the pitch materials online and sent a messenger to their office with a unique link created just for the executives. Now that was something unusual and no other agency had the guts to deploy. While the client was impressed by our effort – sadly, we weren’t awarded the account.

But did you catch the name of our agency – Compelling Content? At the time, I don’t think I fully grasped the importance and meaning of the term.

For Marshall, Compelling Content’s president, the Web was cool! The Web was fun! Still, he doubted how – or why folks would be motivated to do meaningful things on the Web unless the content was compelling. So that was our focus and his mantra carried through everything we wrote and presented, online. Remember, e-commerce barely existed and certainly wasn’t where it is today. Bandwidth and delivery speed was still an issue (remember Max Headroom?), as was browser compatibility. (How quickly we have forgotten!)

In 1997, Corporate America was just beginning to launch brochureware websites. Later that year, I moved over to Addison and found myself in a meeting with a Fortune 500 CEO, explaining the value and ROI of creating his company’s first corporate website, aimed primarily for shareholders and investor relations folks. As of 2020, his company has 1,700 e-commerce sites in 50+ countries and a $6.3billion US valuation.

It’s 23 years later, and e-commerce sales are poised to gut brick-and-mortar sales this Christmas. The Web offers real-time news, podcasts, videos, streaming series, and broadcast TV, plus a boatload of sticky, social media sites.

Last week, I spent most of my Thanksgiving break bingeing The Crown on Netflix…  Watching the series on my large TV in my living room, or curled up in bed, viewing with my laptop. And at one point, I realized that Marshall’s vision – of a Web that offered genuinely compelling content – had finally become a reality.


After Compelling Content and working at other agencies, Marshall wrote a number of books – and the movie, Just Looking – a coming of age comedy set in 1955 starring Patti LuPone, Gretchen Mol, Ryan Merriman, and Peter Onorati, and directed by Jason Alexander.

Photo by hj barraza on Unsplash

Written by : Nancy Slome

One Comment

  1. Marshall Karp December 7, 2020 at 4:21 pm - Reply

    Nancy, It was 1993 — the dawn of the dotcom era — and I was sitting in a seminar somewhere as speaker after speaker talked about network packets and bandwidth and circuit switching. Finally, someone stepped up to the mic and told us that all this new technology was going to need to deliver news, information, entertainment, and other diversions to the people on the receiving end. We’re going to need content, the speaker said. Compelling content. I wrote those two words down, never dreaming that 2 years later I would be able to open my own Internet advertising agency under McCann’s roof. Instead of calling the new company Karp Advertising I decided to put the consumer benefit right there in the corporate ID. And on March 1, 1995 Compelling Content was born. For the next five years I rode the wave. It didn’t hurt that I had enough gray hair to attract clients that wanted to experiment in this new world, but still wanted to work with a strategist and not some kid with blue hair and a nose ring who could make their logos spin on the web. At the end of 1999 as more and more big agencies realized there was money to be made I sold my company to a giant clueless conglomerate. The name Compelling Content disappeared, and a year later, I left the business and started thinking about writing novels. So far, it’s been working out well. Thanks for taking me back to one of the best times of my life.

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