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Hollywood czar Michael Ovitz this month toasts the third anniversary of his controversial march on Madison Avenue.

The enigmatic chairman of Creative Artists Agency, though still loathed by some in the agency business for his thriving affair with Coca-Cola Co., is credited with delivering a much-needed creative wake-up call to the traditional agency business.

"We wouldn't be working with Coca-Cola if CAA hadn't led the way," says Pat Fallon, chairman of Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, which has snared its own assignments from the cola giant.

In the beginning, it was apparent Mr. Ovitz-a shrewd but charming power broker whom Time this year named the world's most powerful man-was up to more than a nebulous "worldwide media and communications" consulting arrangement with Coke. Indeed, it took him less than a year to slip his own hired hand, creative Len Fink, into longtime Coke Classic agency McCann-Erickson Worldwide for a brief collaboration between the two companies.

The joint effort was short lived and war between the two supershops was declared by fall 1992. CAA, having tapped a legion of creative freelancers and top CAA directors, won the battle and reinvigorated the Coke Classic brand with 20-plus visual lollipops for the McCann-created "Always Coca-Cola" theme.

"What it did for the agency business was rewrite the rules they had been playing by in the past," says Rick Ender, a former McCann creative who's now president-creative director of Ender Smith, Atlanta. "You need a great concept to carry what you say, not a media plan."

Since then, Mr. Ovitz has talked with other marketers, including Nike Inc. and Microsoft Corp., about advertising. Additionally, he's said to be discussing an Internet project for Playboy.

But not only did CAA's foray open the floodgates for other Coke-thirsty shops, it also forced conventional agencies to rethink creativity.

That includes Coke shop McCann: The agency this summer formed Amster Yard, a creative-only unit that will use freelancers for high-impact, project-only work.

Sound familiar?

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