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This publication is a decades-long supporter of public service advertising, the Advertising Council, the giving by advertisers of administrative time and by agencies of creative talent. Still, we have to say "way to go" to NBC for sticking to its guns about not giving away valuable prime time in return for paid anti-drug ads from the Clinton administration.

The administration has embraced advertising, at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and in its efforts to combat youth smoking. Earlier this year, Democrats were proposing a ridiculously high $750 million anti-tobacco ad campaign -- more than most major marketers spend to sell a range of products. The drug office has budgeted a still-sizable $150 million in paid ads to try to persuade young people not to do drugs, a laudable initiative. But it also decided the media buys should be contingent on matching free time and space, to secure the equivalent of $300 million in ads. That puts it above Levi's, Visa and Microsoft in the list of national advertisers.

It also gives the government an advantage regular advertisers don't have. Can Levi's get free space for its insertion orders? No media peddler minds the significant ad business of the U.S. government, for military recruitment and Priority Mail, but now Uncle Sam is asking for preferential treatment. Also, its plan probably is dashing the hopes of other worthwhile causes, whose PSAs will have less chance of seeing the light of day. To top it all, the government went to the broadcast community after the upfront sales period -- when networks sell a significant portion of their inventory -- to make its free-time-in-return-for-paid demands.

All the broadcast media have a civic duty to serve the nation's good with public service messages, and if the prime-time ratings leader isn't fulfilling that commitment, that's shameful. But the network should not feel obligated to give away its most valued product to satisfy just one good cause.

Personal space

Even in these days of agency brands, the adage about a shop's best assets going up and down in the elevator each day still holds true. And what's important is who the people are, not where they sit after getting off the elevator in the morning.

TBWA Chiat/Day, which last week continued its yearlong winning streak by picking up two more sizable pieces of businesss (Kinko's and Barnes & Noble online), has come to that conclusion five years after Chiat/Day unveiled its virtual office concept to great fanfare. When the agency moves to new offices in New York and California, it will return to a system of private workspaces while retaining those elements of the virtual office that work best.

From the beginning, Jay Chiat's detractors hinted that in pushing employees out of their offices he was more interested in cutting costs than inspiring creativity. The charge is probably at least partially true, although supporters say Mr. Chiat was right to push the concept as far as he could, realizing it would eventually be pulled back.

But while an office environment can impact how people work, it isn't the key to pushing the creative product, in Mr. Chiat's words, "up a couple of notches." As the agency's recent successes indicate, out-of-the-box thinking, charismatic leadership and an understanding of marketing challenges and solutions are the real keys to taking any company to the next level.

The fate of the virtual office has been in question since the 1995 merger of TBWA and Chiat/Day. Now it's been virtually decided. People are what matter, not office furniture.

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