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LONDON-Armed with airline tickets and e-mail, a small band of highly creative agencies is persuading marketers they can handle international accounts that until recently were the monopoly of big ad agency networks.

British Airways posed the do-we-need-a-network question by inviting a thrilled Bartle Bogle Hegarty to match its single London office against incumbent Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, J. Walter Thompson Co. and Maurice Saatchi's new agency, M&C Saatchi Agency, in a $100 million worldwide review. Bartle's credibility as an international option soared just by being a hot contender that almost beat out Mr. Saatchi for the business.

"The idea of [your] ad agency being around the corner is gone," said Karen Halpert, marketing director of Nike Germany. Ms. Halpert, who was a group account director at Saatchi & Saatchi Frankfurt before joining Nike in January, works with Wieden & Kennedy, Amsterdam, a 3-year-old office set up by Portland, Ore.-based Wieden to handle Nike in Europe. "The emphasis is on an agency that listens to you, understands the consumer and has great creative."

Marketers say the agency-without-a-network concept won't work for everyone: A client needs above-average flexibility and centralization, and a high comfort level with technology.

When Polaroid moved its $30 million pan-European account last year, Bartle was only added to the pitch list as a wild card because of the agency's great creative work for other clients, said Tim Palmer, Polaroid's marketing director for Europe.

"They did an excellent strategic analysis of Polaroid and its problems," Mr. Palmer said. "They nailed it right on the head."

Bartle's first two European commercials for Polaroid broke in April, conveying the spontaneity of instant photography. In one spot, a young female fan in a crowd of adoring, camera-pointing women at a rock concert figures out how to attract the star's attention: She turns her camera on herself and tosses her instant photo to her idol. He desperately scans the mob scene to find the girl as his bodyguards lead him away.

Mr. Palmer says it's actually easier working with an agency without a network.

"With a network, all [the offices] in their heart of hearts want to do creative for Polaroid," he said. "The Italian agency says [international] creative work wouldn't work in Italy, then our Italian managers side with the local agency. At meetings, the tension around creative is gone now. With no local agency to encourage them, the local managers don't try to get involved with creative."

For Bartle, international business has grown from 7% of the agency's revenue in 1991 to a projected 36% this year from about 10 international clients, including Levi Strauss & Co., Haagen-Dazs, Dunhill, Coca-Cola Co. and Electrolux Corp..

"As technologies converge-telephony, computers, satellites-it's getting easier to deal with clients over distance," said Charles Garland, Bartle's group business development director, adding that sales of multimedia PCs are soaring as prices drop. "That kind of technology makes it easier to show a client pictures, describe ideas and have proper meetings without being there."

From the agency's computer studio, Leagas Delaney in London sends ads down fast, high-fidelity data lines to Adidas headquarters in Germany.

"The client can look at it on a color screen but he can't fiddle with it," said Charlie Parkin, Leagas Delaney's new-business director.

Leagas may also add video so agency and client can see each other on their computer monitors as they send ads back and forth.

At Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam, "Everyone says we need more cellular phones," said Managing Director Buz Sawyer.

Agencies without networks live on airplanes. Tim Delaney, creative director of Leagas Delaney, flies from London to New York for the day for meetings with Pepe Jeans, a U.S. apparel company that is a new pan-European account.

"We have an enormous budget for flights," said Guy Hayward, Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam's account director on Nike.

The main service agencies without networks can't provide is international media buying. Leagas Delaney uses Optimedia, a media buying joint-venture between Foote, Cone & Belding and Publicis. Bartle has worked with 16 different ad agency-owned and independent media buying groups in the last year. And Wieden has just hired its first media director, Ivan Pollard, to work with outside media buying companies.

Without agency staff and offices in each country, the client either saves money or the agency earns more-or both.

"Overall we're probably paying about what we were paying before," Polaroid's Mr. Palmer said. "It's cheaper for Bartle than if they had a whole network, but their creative talent and strategic thinking are superior enough to justify [to Polaroid] the parity costs."

"Adidas really, really saves money," said Leagas Delaney's Ms. Parkin. "You pay for every account director, planning director, creative director in each country."

Not everyone is a fan of the agency-without-a-network concept.

"It's baloney," said Fernan Montero, president and chairman of Young & Rubicam Europe. "It's not remotely close to what a real network can offer-hands-on worldwide control. A network is a network. It's there for a reason. It adds value."

Yet even Y&R, at the request of new client Novell, will be working with World Writers, a London-based international copy adaptation service, rather than use the Y&R European network to adapt print ads created by Y&R London for the rest of Europe.

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