Not everyone partied in '99

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Wall street can be a fickle mistress, but it would be Scrooge-like to dismiss with a "Bah! Humbug!" the optimism it showered on stocks of big ad agency companies this month. In one amazing week, eight of nine agency holding companies tracked in the Ad Age/Money.com AdMarket 50 index set 52-week highs. (Only Grey Advertising didn't share in the festivities.) Yet there's another story here.

That tale is how the nation's biggest advertisers fared when Wall Street weighed their fortunes in its scales. Forget the dot-com phenoms. Look at the blue-chippers that populate the top of our Leading National Advertisers list. It's a mixed picture and presents an interesting challenge for agency leaders who often proclaim their own prosperity is inextricably linked to that of their clients.

As with the big ad agencies, Wall Street rewarded some of the biggest U.S. advertisers with stock price gains over the past year that range from respectable to spectacular. Procter & Gamble Co. stock has climbed from the mid-$80s last summer to $110 or more this month. Sony Corp. stock, after beginning the year at around $65, by December was nearly triple that figure.

But stock traders also handed out lumps of coal, some to marketers that regularly spend big on advertising. Among the stock-market downers were Unilever, liquor/foods/fast-food conglomerate Diageo, Philip Morris Cos., Walt Disney Co., DaimlerChrysler and retailers Sears, Roebuck & Co. and J.C. Penney Co.

Each story can reflect unique circumstances within a company, its products or industry. And, despite all the formulas, investor hunches and emotions play a big role, too. So misfortune, like good fortune, can be laid to any number of causes, including advertising and marketing. But it's clear there are giant corporations whose businesses are in need of revival as this year closes. That spells opportunity for their agencies, as strategic advisers and experts in market communications -- and a test of their mettle. As they enjoy their stock gains, agencies need to remember their primary role is to build their clients' businesses.

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