Issues await as 2000 opens

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Welcome to the new millennium! The ambitious predictions of futurists now give way to more immediate tasks. Thankfully, the new year opens by reaping the benefits of the one just past: a solid economy, plentiful jobs and low inflation.

Moreover, the Conference Board last week reported its consumer confidence index in December had reached its second highest reading ever, with consumers optimistic about both their present circumstances and the likely state of the economy six months from now. That's a tonic for anyone involved with future marketing and sales programs.

From this vantage point, here are some year 2000 issues to watch:

* Mergers. For the second year in a row, this leads Ad Age's list of phenomena to keep an eye on. Particularly in the agency and marketing-services world, the rearranging of the industry into global clans of related companies is far from over. Moreover, 2000's deals, like last year's Leo Burnett Co./MacManus Group/Dentsu alliance, potentially will include more big players. Among marketers, the merger pace will vary by industry, but it looks like bigger is better will still be the common refrain.

* Media concentration. This is the year CBS and Viacom walk down the aisle in a giant media marriage. While the Federal Communications Commission is presiding over an ownership consolidation among TV and radio stations -- creating bigger station groups and allowing common ownership of two TV stations in the same market -- will over-aggressive empire builders prompt uneasy advertising buyers to call in federal antitrusters?

* Dot-com do or die. They were the horn of plenty for ad media in 1999, but the party atmosphere just can't continue. In the sorting out that will start with 1999 holiday-season sales results, dot-com financial backers will begin sifting through the winners and losers. Some mergers -- and more discipline in marketing -- are likely to follow.

* Relationship building. Will marketers get it right? All the investment in databases, and the huge potential seen in "one-on-one" marketing and "interactivity," means there's an increased responsibility to provide good customer service. Anecdotal evidence of 1999 holiday-sales snafus at dot-com merchants will step up pressure for more investment in back-end services.

* Political ads. Democrat Bill Bradley laughed off rival Al Gore's invitation to substitute debates for TV ads in the Democratic presidential campaign. How ugly Campaign 2000 ad tactics will get is unclear, but it should be another banner year for political ad spending. At stake: control not only of the White House, but Congress and many state legislatures, where the winning party will dictate redistricting based on the 2000 census.

* Olympics. The corporate players on the global marketing stage created by the International Olympic Committee have been presented with a reform plan aimed at driving bribery out of IOC's site-selection process. But will more shoes drop this year as U.S. probers complete their look at the scandal-plagued selection of Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Games? Sponsors, with plans pegged to the 2000 summer Olympics that open in Sydney Sept. 15, would not welcome more controversy.

The new century's marketing history will be created one year at a time. Today's task: Make this year one in which clear steps are taken to make marketing and advertising more effective, efficient and innovative for its users; more useful for the consumers it serves; and more rewarding and satisfying for the people who have chosen this field as their career. That would be a great start for this new millennium.

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