NEW-BUSINESS BOOM? NOT OUT WEST

'Desperate' Agencies Chase All Available Accounts

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- East Coast agencies may be inundated with new-business inquiries, but judging from the response to some recent pitches, the West Coast is experiencing one of its toughest years in memory.

Case in point: Heald College, a nonprofit career college operating in California, Oregon and Hawaii, was flooded with more than 70 responses to a request for information from agencies regarding its $4 million account. Earlier this year, a small review in Southern California for the estimated $7 million El Pollo Loco account, garnered 60 entries, said a spokeswoman for the chain. (The chain subsequently selected WPP Group's Y&R Cos., Irvine, Calif., to be its agency.)

Dot-com bust
These recent pitches are a far

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cry from the dot-com boom, when agencies were being handed $25 million accounts from startups just for answering a telephone call. They are also a long way from the pitches of the 1980s and early 1990s, when major regional marketers such as Bank of America, Pacific Bell, Boeing or Levi Strauss & Co. conducted consolidated reviews for creative and media with budgets near or exceeding $100 million. Those clients have either switched to agencies outside the area or have been acquired and moved headquarters out of the region.

"We don't have the same kind of client universe," said Catherine Bension, president-CEO of Select Resources International, West Hollywood, one of the region's leading review consulting firms. She called the influx of responses to the smaller accounts a "sign agencies are desperate for new business."

The dark ages
Some veterans of the West Coast agency business say the once-hot market is fading to the less illustrious era in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a time when a few shops and some large agency outposts toiled on smaller, regional clients. But by the 1990s, major brands from outside the market were parking their businesses out West. A few major clients remain, among them Microsoft Corp., Clorox Co. and General Motors Corp.'s Saturn Motor Corp.

As for Heald College, review consultant Lisa Kovner said the account was previously at Publicis Groupe's Publicis Dialog, San Francisco, which did brand response advertising. Now the school has decided instead to scale back and to focus solely on a direct-response model, she said. Publicis Dialog declined to participate in the pitch.

Ms. Kovner this week announced that the search has narrowed to seven shops, including Interpublic Group of Cos.' directDeutsch, Los Angeles and New York; WPP Group's Wunderman, San Francisco; TMP/Enrollment Marketing Group, Los Angeles; and San Francisco agencies Gardner Geary Coll, SenaReider, Swirl and Wrecking Ball.

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