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CITY OF ANGELS IS LESS THAN HEAVEN DISASTERS-NATURAL AND MAN-MADE-ARE RATTLING SOME IN L.A. AD COMMUNITY

By Published on .

Los Angeles is a city of contradictions.

While headlines covering disasters-both man-made and natural-dominate the news, the mythical Eden of southern California is kept alive through popular TV shows like "Baywatch" and the perpetually sunny coverage of the Rose Parade on New Year's Day.

"It's hell and paradise married to each other," said David Suissa, chairman-executive creative director of Suissa/Miller, Santa Monica.

Within the marketing community, the concern following the recent devastating earthquake is the truly talented marketers and agency executives will flee a region systematically stirred by seismic shakers, rattled by riots, wasted by wildfires, smothered by smog and ruptured by recession.

But, hey, the weather's great.

For Mr. Suissa, who moved to Los Angeles from Montreal a decade ago, the paradise part can be summed up by the way he spent the day before the Jan. 17 quake. Mr. Suissa took his family-his parents, his sister and her children were visiting from Montreal-to the Santa Monica Pier on Sunday afternoon. There they mingled with the likes of Warren Beatty and wife Annette Bening, Jeff Bridges and Leonard Cohen.

"I still love L.A.," Mr. Suissa said. But his wife, a four-year resident, doesn't share his opinion. She favors moving.

Some agency heads worry that many share her feeling.

"I haven't heard it yet, but I'm sure it will happen," said Bob Kuperman, president of Chiat/Day, Venice. "After the earthquake, they'll say `That's kinda it. I'll find some other way and place to work and live."' The native New Yorker even felt a little homesick after the shaking. "That 1-degree temperature in New York looked awfully good."

Several executive recruiters who specialize in marketing positions said that in the aftermath of the quake, they haven't been overwhelmed with calls from would-be relocators.

One 30-year-old publicist who moved from Florida 15 years ago and is married to a senior agency executive couldn't wait. She called the Los Angeles and New York offices of Advertising Age, demanding the telephone numbers of headhunters to help her move after the latest quake.

"I've been uncomfortable with all of them," she said of the quakes she has experienced. "This one was out of control."

However, her husband does not want to move.

Los Angeles has no shortage of disasters to make the thought of moving away attractive.

"The L.A. riots [in April 1992] certainly had one of the biggest effects," said Laura Murphy, principal of Baeder/Murphy, a Beverly Hills search company. "I got calls within the week."

But if there's another quake in 90 days, "that's a different story," she said. "We all assume it's a one-shot deal, and we all knew it was coming. If there is another, God knows what will happen. People will say, `It's over.'*"

Recruiters say they began to see a trend three years ago of people seeking to move to greener pastures.

"People who wanted to leave, to move on to a better lifestyle, now want to go more than ever," Ms. Murphy said.

Popular locations for fleeing Angelenos don't include the traditional advertising centers of Chicago and New York but rather the secondary markets of the Pacific Northwest, San Francisco (even though that city is hardly immune to seismic interruptions), Denver and Dallas.

Not all recent emigres seem ready to bolt. David Lubars moved from Providence, R.I., in September to join BBDO Worldwide, Los Angeles, as exec VP-executive creative director. "All I'll say is that my place looks like a room at the Holiday Inn after Keith Moon stayed there," he said, referring to the late drummer of the Who. "But I'm here for now."

And at least one executive who recently left still holds affection for southern California. Ken Kaess ended an almost eight-year stint in Los Angeles to return to New York Jan. 3 after being promoted to exec VP-managing partner at DDB Needham Worldwide. But he didn't miss the Jan. 17 shocker.

"I was there," he said. "The lifestyle, the people, I love it there."

His earthquake story (and everyone within a 50-mile radius of the Northridge, Calif., epicenter has one) perhaps best illustrates the resiliency of Angelenos to which Ms. Murphy referred.

"The earthquake happened at 4:30 a.m.," he said. "At 8 a.m., a real estate broker came over to the house to present an offer."

Marcy Magiera contributed to this story.

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