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Ad Agencies Market Themselves

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With the economy in a down cycle and new business activity in the doldrums, agencies have turned to marketing a new client: themselves.

Advertising for ad agencies is not new, but a spate of recent local campaigns suggests it has become a popular coping mechanism in tough economic times.

In mid-April, WarrenCordes+ of Austin, Texas, launched a print ad and direct mail campaign called "Revolutionaries." Using images of historic figures such as Buckminster Fuller and Sir Winston Churchill, the advertisements use rather dense copy to draw parallels between such great thinkers and the creative brains at WarrenCordes+. Of actress Hedy Lamarr, the ad states, "Some look into the great unknown and ask, 'Why?' Others gaze out and ask, 'Why not?' But those with the ability to find answers to both questions are the ones who will rewrite the future."

Agency chief executive officer Charlotte Warren said she hired an independent consultant late last year to help brand the agency.

"What spurred us was a very strong belief that we should be doing for ourselves what we do for our clients," Warren said. "Coincidentally, when the economy began to take a turn, we found it was really appropriate."

The Focus Group in Houston introduced a six-week direct mail campaign in early spring.

"We were so busy we couldn't breathe, and then all of a sudden it seemed like the phones quit ringing," said Focus vice president of marketing services Toni VanZant.

In response, the agency created a "Significant other" campaign in which it targeted 52 Fortune 500 companies. Focus positioned itself as a secondary resource to the companies' primary advertising agency, with a mailing that included a mock personal ad and a champagne glass. To date, the campaign has resulted in seven meetings with potential clients.

"It's timely," VanZant said. "The big budgets have gone away, and typically that's good times for us."

Others, such as The Focus Agency, an Omnicom shop in Irving, Texas, question the effectiveness of ad agency advertising. One of the shop's print ads that appeared in Business 2.0 last year drew zero respondents.

"There are much more targeted ways to deliver that message," summarized Mark Miller, president of Focus and Rapp Collins.