Ad sunshine in Orange County

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he epicenter of a small but welcome West Coast ad boom is not San Francisco or Los Angeles, but pastoral Orange County, home of Disneyland, surfer dudes and a thriving business for branch offices of multinational advertising agencies.

"I don't think it's the next San Francisco or Madison Avenue, but it has the chance to be the next `thing'-something hot, interesting, happening," said David Murphy, CEO of the Y&R Cos., Irvine, part of WPP Group and the largest agency office in the county with 350 employees. The shop puts employees of Y&R Advertising and WPP specialty agencies such as identity firm Landor Associates and Hispanic marketing shop Bravo Group under one management team.

The kicker: Y&R's Irvine office has put out the help wanted sign for 25 to 30 staffers across all advertising disciplines-a remarkable spate of hiring as shops to the north in Los Angeles and San Francisco are mostly firing.

Y&R's office blossomed when Ford Motor Co. moved Lincoln and Mercury from Detroit to Irvine; Ford's Jaguar, another client, is now located in Irvine. Mr. Murphy said Ford came to Irvine because the area has "a feel of optimism [and] a vibrant culture of growth."

Other branch offices benefiting from the car business are Cordiant Communications Group's Bates Advertising which has the $145 million ad account of hot-selling Hyundai Motor America, and Doner, which handles the $200 million account of Ford-backed Mazda North American Operations. Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote, Cone & Belding Southern California, Irvine, another major player in the area, has 200 employees and clients in traditional businesses fromTricon Global Restaurants' Taco Bell to Hilton Hotels Corp.

A bevy of smaller shops, a number of them focusing on Hispanic marketing, are also taking root in the area.

Jim Harrington, president of FCB in Irvine, acknowledged the area has not only the California lifestyle perks but its usual drawback as well. "It's expensive to live here," he said. But Orange County is one of the few places in advertising where the outlook is still mostly sunny.

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