Agencies' game

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It's rather intriguing to see the implosion of MarchFirst. For this is an outfit that in an earlier life-as USWeb/CKS-boldly talked about making a serious play in the ad agency game. It did not happen. In fact, the 1990s' most noted supposed threats to agencies went nowhere. But the ad agency world changed-because agencies changed. That bodes well for agencies' stake in the future.

Flash back to 1999: "Our plan is definitely to acquire some key advertising groups into our operation this year," vowed the president of USWeb/CKS, then the top Web shop. "It's probably going to be the smaller, hot shops that potentially see an opportunity to join forces with us."

USWeb/CKS and successor MarchFirst became too preoccupied with other issues and crises to trade their Internet stocks for more agencies. Luckily, the owners never got around to screwing up the one agency in their portfolio, McKinney & Silver. The North Carolina shop is poised to be sold, escaping disaster.

Internet shops' takeover of Mad. Ave. didn't happen. Earlier in the decade, buzz that management consulting firms would add advertising to their services mix didn't come to pass. And a threat from Hollywood talent agencies fell flat. Coca-Cola Co. hired glitzy Creative Artists Agency in 1991 as "worldwide media and communications consultant," and CAA soon was doing ads. But Coke agencies didn't go away. Last December, Coke named Interpublic Group of Cos. its global "creative consultant and idea generator," affirming an ad agency relationship that dates back nearly 60 years.

Ad agency companies are changing. Both Omnicom Group and WPP Group, for example, get the majority of revenue from marketing services other than advertising.

Pressure from outside forces is healthy. But in the end, agencies have shown they can be agents of change.

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