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Using the questionnaire below, we've created a "virtual roundtable" discussion about the general health of the advertising industry. The folks involved are all CDs who have judged shows, whose work wins regularly at the top competitions and who, we can reasonably expect, have credible opinions about the current state of advertising creative.

WARNING: These opinions do not reflect those of the general public.

As the survey took shape, we found the perceptions expressed therein as fascinating as the reality behind them. Despite our desire not to publish a who's hot/who's not list, there really was a strong sense of who was up and who was down, and we found the downsiders outnumbered upsiders, which may reflect an overall sense of pessimism about the kind of work seen being produced today.

First off, we asked people to rank the top five agencies in the country. We figured that, easily, Wieden & Kennedy, Goodby Silverstein & Partners and Fallon McElligott (not necessarily in that order) would occupy the top three spots. What we weren't sure about was who would round out the hand, although we had some strong suspicions. The overwhelming pick of our soft-focus group: Cliff Freeman & Partners (our 1996 Agency of the Year) and TBWA Chiat/Day.

We next chose a group of agencies, some large, some small, from around the country and asked our focus group to assess whether the quality of their work over the past year had risen, fallen off or stayed about the same. Here's where things got interesting:

On Wieden, the bulk of opinion was that their work was either not as good or about the same as it had been. While ESPN work is universally liked, the belief that Nike and Microsoft work is not going anywhere special seemed pervasive.

On GS&P, however, the consensus was that their work was on the upswing. Also riding a wave of good vibrations is TBWA Chiat/Day, as was expected, largely on the strength of the "Drive Happy" campaign.

On the flip side, the mood was less charitable to Fallon, where a sense that the work wasn't as good as in the past was clear. While Prudential helped strengthen their perception, McDonald's hurt, and the jury is out on Miller Lite.

The handle on the big shops we inquired about, O&M in New York and BBDO (both New York and West), was mixed. Opinion about O&M's work was evenly split, but the preponderance of opinion about BBDO/New York was that the work, particularly Pepsi, was falling off, whereas the stock of BBDO/West is on the rise.

Another agency that didn't fare well in our survey was Hal Riney & Partners: no one ranked their work as improving over the past year, opinion being evenly split as to whether it was holding its own or in decline.

Two New York upstarts-or former upstarts, as the case may be-didn't fare well in our popularity contest either. Both Kirshenbaum, Bond & Partners and Deutsch were rated as having work that wasn't up to previous standards. Also getting a somewhat negative skew was The Martin Agency; the typical comments went along the lines that the work here was either trying too hard or looking all the same.

The agencies that seemed to have the best overall buzz among those we inquired about were Cliff Freeman and FCB/San Francisco; more than anything, our CD group rated those agencies work over the past year as better than before.

We asked our group which agency in a number of different geographical areas they'd recommend to a client, and the answers were not that surprising. In New York, most named Cliff Freeman. In New England, Leonard/Monahan and PSK got frequent nods; in San Francisco, GS&P was a strong first choice, followed by FCB and Butler, Shine & Stern; in Minneapolis, it was Fallon, followed by Carmichael Lynch and Hunt Adkins; in Portland/Seattle, it was Wieden, followed by Cole & Weber and Moffatt/Rosenthal; in Richmond and the Southeast, it was Martin followed by Crispin, Porter & Bogusky; and in L.A. and Southern California, it was TBWA Chiat/Day followed by BBDO and Ground Zero.

When we asked about which agencies were considered a good place to work and which were bad, we got an interesting mix of answers. The only agency that made a big splash on both lists was Goodby Silverstein & Partners-the overall high quality of work supporting its inclusion on the first part, accompanied by the repeated warning that the place was a "sweatshop" if you were on the wrong accounts. Ironically, while our CDs felt that Martin's work was overrated, they were in agreement that it's considered a great place to work. So, too, W&K and Fallon, both agencies that suffered from less than glowing perceptions about their product.

Finally, we asked our group to name a creative director that would be their first choice to start an agency with. The overwhelming first choice: Jeff Goodby, followed by Lee Clow. No surprises there.

Instructions: Cut along the dotted line and send to Creativity Magazine or

fax to (212) 210-0200 or use our new "e-z" return via [email protected]

1) Think of three adjectives to describe the current state of advertising creative today. (Please avoid use of four-letter words.)

2) Rank the top five agencies on the strength of their creative work in the past year, in descending order (we've given you a head start):

1. Wieden & Kennedy

2. Goodby Silverstein & Partners

3. Fallon McElligott



3) Which shop in your respective neck of the woods did the best overall work last year?

4) If a client called you looking for the best creative shop in these areas, which would

you recommend?

Seattle/Portland Minneapolis L.A./Southern California Chicago

San Francisco Richmond Boston/Providence New York

5) Given last year's work, what agencies do you think are the most: overrated -

underrated -

6) In your opinion, would you say the creative reputation of the following agencies, based on their work over the past year, is getting better, worse, or staying the same? Circle one:

1. Wieden & Kennedy better same worse

2. Goodby Silverstein & Partners better same worse

3. Fallon McElligott better same worse

4. TBWA Chiat/Day better same worse

5. BBDO/New York better same worse

6. BBDO/West better same worse

7. Hal Riney & Partners better same worse

8. Kirshenbaum, Bond & Partners better same worse

9. Cliff Freeman & Partners better same worse

10. FCB/San Francisco better same worse

11. The Martin Agency better same worse

12. Deutsch, Inc. better same worse

13. Ogilvy & Mather/New York better same worse

(If you think your agency should be on this list but it's not, please tell us why, but be polite.)

7) What do you think is the best place to work?

The worst?

8) If you were going to start an agency tomorrow and could hire the best creative director in the business (besides yourself or your current boss, of course), who would it be?

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