4A's push must show best of biz

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the ad-agency business has an image problem. The solution offered by the American Association of Advertising Agencies? Hire a PR shop. Maybe the Public Relations Society of America should return the compliment by hiring an ad agency.

In fact, the 4A's decision to hire GolinHarris to do industry outreach is welcome news on two fronts. First, it's good to see the agency business admit it has a problem. Second, it's nice to see agencies recognize what marketers already know: Advertising isn't always the solution.

But an image campaign won't work unless agencies focus on substance: Prove how they maximize return on investment; demonstrate a credo of media neutrality and a commitment to all marketing-communications tools; show off diverse examples of work that works-engaging creative, winning ideas.

Tony Hopp, Campbell-Ewald's CEO and 4A's chairman, vows the PR initiative will be grounded in reality and fact. "This isn't about fluff," he said. "It's all about substance." By shining the light on agency "success stories showing innovation and return on investment," he said, the 4A's hopes to debunk the perception that agencies are resisting ROI measures.

Does the agency business embrace ROI, espouse media neutrality and produce stellar work? Yes and no. The best agencies get the drill; other agencies big and small continue to muddle in mediocrity, churning out uninspired 30-second commercials and other work without a second (or first) thought.

The 4A's has a good story to tell in its diverse membership-old agency networks, yes, but also shops specializing in interactive ( AKQA, Avenue A/ Razorfish, R/GA), branding ( Landor Associates) and PR (Burson-Marsteller, Hill & Knowlton). For all the challenges facing the industry-new technology, upheaval in old media, margin pressures-agencies have positive stories to tell.

Whether the 4A's can capture that in a viable PR campaign is to be seen. For this effort to have any chance of success, the 4A's must show off the best agencies and best ideas. The campaign will lose all credibility if it paints some floundering giant as a fount of innovation.
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