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Shops, Clients Reassess Priorities

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Cutbacks in travel budgets at both agencies and clients have triggered questions about how many meetings are necessary and who should attend. As an alternative, some agencies are relying more on technology to interact with clients.

"Technology has been a great enabler in driving efficiency. We're using brand-asset systems and Internet tools to show and share creative work," said Publicis U.S. CEO Susan Gianinno. "Face-to-face meetings are no longer as necessary, which is a shame in some ways since young people used to be able to learn in those meetings. Now meetings are more goal oriented."

In general, the cast at in-person sit-downs these days is smaller and more senior, agency leaders said. "Clients are asking for fewer, more accountable people," said Rich Stoddart, U.S. president of Leo Burnett. "We have to be more focused, more dedicated and less fragmented, with tighter lead teams that communicate well and move together in the right direction."

Robertson said advances in teleconferencing systems have made those interactions more feasible, less expensive and faster. Key clients such as Bank of America and Hewlett-Packard have invested in them as well, which, in the case of BofA, enables BBDO New York execs to walk to a local BofA office and connect with client officials there as well as in Boston and Charlotte, N.C.

That said, there's no substitute for human interaction, particularly at crucial junctures in the creative development process. "Video conferencing and those substitutes are just that," said Bob Liodice, CEO of the Association of National Advertisers. "They may become more prevalent in order to enhance productivity, but everybody quote, unquote prefers to be face-to-face. It's the most accommodating, most effective way to get things done."