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Chiat and the Internet.

Somehow, it seems a match made in, well, cyberspace, for the virtual agency to open a home page on the World Wide Web.

Chiat/Day is only one of a growing number of ad agencies finding online media a friendly place to troll for new business. So far, the investment is small and concrete returns are nominal. But it's only the beginning.

"Every agency will be on the Internet in some way, shape or form by the end of the year," said Anthony Manson, senior VP-group director of new technologies at Young & Rubicam, New York, who's plotting an agency Web site. "The Internet as a marketing device for agencies is viable. If we use it as a marketing tool for our clients, why can't we use it for the agency?"

Chiat's site, called the Idea Factory, does more to showcase art, ideas and theories than it does to actively "sell" the agency to prospective clients. It's especially interesting for an agency whose insolent reputation as a trend-bucker was its '80s calling card.

"We need to provide an area that's rich enough, dense enough and evolutionary enough for people to come back to often," said Chiat New York Managing Director Ira Matathia, noting that if the month-old site was just about Chiat clients, capabilities and billings, Internet surfers wouldn't come back a second time.

"The goal of this thing is to create a buzz about something going on at the site other than what you'd expect from an ad agency," he said.

Other agencies are testing the online waters in a more traditional way. BBDO Worldwide last year started the TechSetter Hotline on CompuServe, an area where subscribers can share their opinions about technology and new media.

While large agencies like J. Walter Thompson Co., McCann-Erickson Worldwide and BBDO are in varying stages of creating Web sites, smaller agencies view cyberspace as their ticket to international access.

Communication House International, a New York-based advertising and marketing consulting shop with $2.5 million in billings, plans to have a site on the Well, a popular Internet service, up and running within weeks.

Sigward Moser, president of the agency, with clients that include Miele Appliances, BHF Bank and a classical music archive called Melodiya, said the site will serve solely to promote five-year-old Communication House. It will include a client list, executive biographies and examples of agency work.

"It's a necessity," Mr. Moser said. "The way we market products-and the agency-will change dramatically with this new media. On the Internet everyone has the same voice, meaning I can compete with a major global ad agency because everyone has the same possibility and access."

One reason agencies, a group typically loath to promote themselves directly, are flocking to cyberspace seems to be that it's a way to help coax clients online and appear proactive.

Late last year Winkler McManus, San Francisco, established a virtual agency on the Web which allows Internet users to click through the agency's portfolio, stroll through its "staff lounge" and meet top management represented by biographies and photos.

The user starts on a home page, a 3-D rendition of the agency's lobby. Clicking on doors, statues and other objects takes the user to other "rooms."

"We believe in walking the talk," said Agnieszka Winkler, founder and president of Winkler McManus. "We can tell clients how it works because we are using it ourselves."

One of the most proactive agencies, Cleveland's Liggett-Stashower, is setting up an entire interactive office complex where agencies and clients can become tenants. CommercePark, as it's called, is expected to be up and running this spring.

Liggett Exec VP Terry McGovern said the agency is currently soliciting agency equity partners for CommercePark. After the startup, Liggett wants other agencies to act as brokers, earning a commission for bringing clients aboard.

Meanwhile, on its own Web site, Liggett has created a virtual agency tour complete with a three-dimensional representation of an office lobby.

"It's a wonderful new frontier for agencies," said Andy Gebby, Liggett's computer systems manager. " We haven't won any big clients, but it has created an interest in us."

For other agencies, CD-ROM is the route to potential new business.

New York agency veteran Bob Cox, now president of the Cox Group, is creating a new-business piece on CD-ROM. Called "War Stories," a prospective client will be able to hear and see Mr. Cox narrate marketing case histories from his own experience working on products such as Honda and Alka-Seltzer.

And some agencies insist their own Internet efforts aren't a new-business tool at all.

Fallon McElligott's site was set up to "have communication with suppliers, prospective employees and current clients," said Mark Goldstein, president of integrated marketing at the Minneapolis shop. "It seemed like the most exciting way to set up our own storefront.

"If a prospective client contacts us, we will certainly give them the address, but we don't want to design it for new biz."

Interestingly, the agency is adding Minneapolis trivia-from the best dry cleaners to where to get good carry-out Thai food-to its site to assist potential new staffers (or clients) in navigating around the city.

"We believe that the Internet is like a monthly magazine and that's how we're treating it," Mr. Goldstein said. "We have someone serving as a managing editor who decides what we do every month and we have a production schedule. We have examples of all of our work for all clients, information on agency leadership and some news."

Alice Z. Cuneo contributed to this story.

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