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Advertising agencies are finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel. Profits are up at most publicly held shops as advertisers pick up the spending pace.

With pressure easing, however, agencies mustn't be tempted into deciding they can get on with the same old ways of doing business. For example, how aggressively and enthusiastically will they look ahead to participating in the new interactive media?

Last week and this, our Interactive Media & Marketing section has reviewed how the major agencies are responding to this new world of interactive communications. The results are mixed. But to no one's surprise, the larger shops are the most active in confronting the emerging technologies. Why not? They've got the bucks.

However, as financial pressures fade, we hope agencies everywhere see the need to scope out the information superhighway-to watch the phone companies and their deals with Walt Disney Co. and Creative Artists Agency, to become familiar with on-line services, etc.

In the "down" years, many agencies ceded consumer and market research to their clients. But the emerging communications technologies offer a golden opportunity for agencies. Of course, an ad professional blessed with a creative soul and steeped in knowledge of human motivation can still take center stage in the battle for the consumer's dollar. But the options for reaching prospects are exploding.

Clients need to know where they must put their marketing dollars today and tomorrow. Agencies that guide them wisely are in the best position to be partners in the communications efforts that follow. This isn't mall intercept stuff; this is learning where and how technology will lead, and whether consumers will follow, and why.

Remember: the information superhighway is still in the planning stages. Advertising's role is open to debate. If the new technologies are to catch on quickly, the ad community must play an important role by supplying the money and, in some instances, the programming. That's how TV exploded in the 1950s.

Smart agencies that guide their clients to the right on-ramps will reap tomorrow's rewards.

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