Ad Shops: From Catch-Alls to Specialists

If Mike Shine and Ed Cotton from Butler, Shine & Stern think the ad agency is headed for extinction [Art & Commerce, May 7], maybe they should look a bit further back into its history to report its demise.

In the 1960s and ’70s, the big agencies did all the work Shine and Cotton describe, not just the big ads for the networks and major magazines like Life. Every copywriter and art director was expected to be proficient in creating direct mail, point-of-purchase, trade show materials, customer giveaways—whatever the client needed or the marketing strategy dictated. It went under the general heading of “merchandising” and was that portion of the time sheet where accurate hours had to be recorded because this was all non-media, non-commissionable billing.

Whatever new medium or technology came up, we were expected to master it. That went with the territory if you were creative in those days. Ditto for account management and media. Some agencies had whole departments dedicated to doing the brochures, displays and sample books that were an integral part of the client’s marketing.

Then, somewhere in the 1980s, specialists arose, usually the same people from the ad agencies who tended to handle the merchandising stuff, and started convincing clients that this arena was one too “specialized” to leave to “ad” agencies.

By the end of the ’80s, enough specialty shops had siphoned off so much of this business that big “ad” agencies started buying the specialists up to recapture the revenue. If you can’t beat ’em, buy ’em. And they kept the mystique of specialization intact to protect their investments.

I’ve worked both sides of the merchandising aisle for 33 years. The “limitations” didn’t die. Like so much else in advertising, the death of versatility was more of a self-fulfilling prophesy. If a creative today can’t master the Web as easily as a mailer—well, they’re not very creative, are they?

Tom Cammarata

Principal, creative director

Coyote Hill Creative

Middletown, Calif.

Ogilvy & Mather won three, not two, gold Effies [Creative Briefs, June 11], two for its campaigns for IBM and one for its Remicade campaign. … A chart in the Cable Special Report [June 11] should have noted that the basic cable ratings reflect each network’s universe, not total U.S. household coverage.