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Agency execs take share of blame for dot-com crash

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Naples, Fla.--Claiming partial responsibility for the dot-com crash, ad agency executives at the American Association of Advertising Agencies annual management meeting here said they can largely influence the economy's recovery by creating good advertising that will convince consumers to buy more products and stimulate growth.

"To what extent did ad agencies fuel the decline of dot-coms by draining their finances?" asked Maurice Levy, chairman of Publicis Groupe SA, at the opening day of the conference Thursday. "Did we give clients counsel that went beyond advice on how to raise IPO billions with ad campaigns? ... To the extent we that we contributed to the dot-com crash, let's accept some responsibility and learn some lessons."

Those lessons, debated during the first two days of the conference, include getting back to advertising fundamentals, looking outside the agency community for bright minds, making a deeper commitment to employees and rethinking business models to realize efficiencies.

Cathey Finlon, chairman-CEO of independent agency McClain Finlon Advertising Inc., Denver, said it all starts with developing new strategies for organizing and managing agencies, rather than focusing on the laborious details that go into campaign development.

"It is so important for us as agencies to be focused more on developing thought leadership than the work process itself," Finlon said. "Sometimes, arduous work keeps us from being strong mental leaders."

Phil Dusenberry, chairman of BBDO New York and outgoing chairman of the Four A's, said the advertising community can do more than learn from this experience: It can actually help the economy's recovery by doing what it does best.

"Today our country is deeply fearful about an economy that has stopped booming," said Dusenberry. "Has there ever been a time to crank up the best in the world and help sell us the hell out of this dumb slump? We have the power to advertise our way out of these economic doldrums."

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