BREWING UP FTC TROUBLE: HIRING AGAIN

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Brewing Up FTC trouble

Beer marketing can cope with the Federal Trade Commission's look at Stroh Brewery Co. ads if FTC's object is simply punishing errant placement of a malt liquor commercial in a teen program.

That's the best spin to be put on FTC's decision to join in Washington's current focus on kids and alcoholic beverage advertising. That a spot for Stroh's Schlitz Malt Liquor turned up on MTV's teen-program "My So-Called Life" is an embarassment (which Stroh attributes to a snafu at MTV). Some will call it overkill if FTC later holds Stroh responsible for "unfair" advertising, but there's no question a malt liquor ad didn't belong in that show.

The darker side of FTC's probe of Stroh (and Seagram Americas) is whether it's a sign of deeper trouble. Will FTC seize child protection as justification for a wider effort to curtail alcoholic beverage ads in general audience media-as is happening with tobacco?

That needn't happen, though there's no question the liquor industry's push to join beer and wine advertisers on TV is testing public attitudes. Industry vigilance in Washington is one part of the solution. Another is to deal openly with social concerns about media placement, and also to learn from the Joe Camel lesson: Pay careful, careful attention to how creative may affect young people.

Hiring Again

Employment trends at the nation's largest agencies no longer are a case of diminishing returns.

This year, 16 of the nation's largest agencies, where employment has been tracked over the decade by Advertising Age, grew 2.4% at the core level-agency brand-and 7.4% on the consolidated side-core plus subsidiaries-compared with last year. It is the first time in five years the group's head counts have grown. The data, presented in last week's Salary Survey special report, are cause to celebrate-even though in total employment the elite 16 lay 9.7% below its '92 core level and 4.8% below consolidated.

The uptick in workforce size at these 16 agencies reflects several factors: higher confidence in the nation's economy; recent acquisitions; the need to build staff slimmed by attrition, redundancies and layoffs triggered by acquisitions and a tighter economy early in the decade; and fundamental changes taking place in the ad business.

Current hiring suggests the recessionary quake in the early '90s and its tremors that influenced downsizing are behind us. Media spending this year-up 9% in the first half and with full-year totals expected to rise even higher because of the Olympics, Presidential election and possibly a stronger holiday period-is fattening agency coffers and no doubt contributing to increased hiring.

But new hires also point to fundamental changes affecting the agency business. The lion's share of agency hires is in direct marketing and new media.

Direct marketing, along with promotional marketing, is serving as a locomotive for growth, largely because it appeals to advertisers trying to reach busy consumers. Direct techniques also are abetting the rush into targeted marketing. And growth is surging in new media-the new kid, literally, on the block. Few in the top 30 agency group lack such a unit, and these emerging media options are attracting new blood to the industry in the form of young, Internet-sophisticates.

The energy evident in these two areas is not only bringing employment rolls back upward, but ultimately will transform advertising agency culture.

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