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Ad Agencies Recognize Importance Of Computer Systems

Back-shop operations, the tasks that ushered in computers at many agencies, remain the most popular functions. Word processing is No. 1: 100% of agencies with computers do it. Spreadsheets, revenue/income analysis, customer billing and client record keeping follow, with 89% to 94% each.

Media buying (69% of agencies) and trafficking (63%) are also widely done on computers, as are typesetting (64%) and comps and layouts (62%).

And the information boom has made strong inroads as well. Electronic information sources are available at a solid 62% of the shops. Market analysis is done by computer at 60% of the agencies; client-industry tracking is done at 59% of the shops; customer database accessing is done by 54%; and new-business prospect identification is done by 52%.

One-third of the agencies send messages on electronic mail. Some 27% are using their computers to create finished art, and a handful – 2% to 3% – are exploring the frontiers of graphics, desktop publishing and presentations and slides.

The end result is finding agencies becoming, literally, greater than the sum of their human parts. “The scales are being tipped,” says Beason. “With the competitive edge of having access to information, smaller agencies can compete with larger agencies. Agencies of all sizes can compete on the same footing.”

For Schell/Mullaney, the end product was like something out of a commercial. The client took a long look at the executions on the table – the finishing touches of which were downloaded from Brian Mullaney’s computer onto a laser printer only a half-hour before the meeting, just before the three musketeers piled into his Jeep and stormed across the East River to the client’s headquarters.

The client took another look at the work. Then he turned to the three ad agency executives, who were practically imploding from the suspense, and delivered his judgment.

“How did you do all this in four days?” he asked, incredulous. “How many people are in your agency?”

“You’re looking at them,” the agency executives replied. “But we’re thinking about hiring a secretary.”

“Don’t,” the client said. “Keep your overhead low.”

The agency – having gotten the account – went ahead and hired the secretary. But it also stocked up on computers.

It’s not alone. In the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake last October, with the Bay Bridge shut down and disaster officials asking businesses to keep their employees from coming to work, creative groups in Foote, Cone & Belding’s San Francisco office kept in touch with each other, and kept working, at home on their Macintosh computers.

When Leo Burnett moved into new offices in Chicago last year, it invested close to $2 million installing fiber-optic cable to link 1,200 computers in the agency. At BBDO, New York, staff are producing virtually every animatic that is done with their computers. Lintas:New York keeps the names of every contact that its executives have within prospective clients on its in-house computer system.

At Ogilvy & Mather, 90 cents out of every dollar that will be spent on capital investments this year will go to technology, according to Louise Vondran, senior vice president, chief information officer at the agency.

The agency has been methodically bringing its departments on line. Media, for example, is “100% integrated,” and O&M hopes to have a computer on every desktop in its creative department by the end of the fourth quarter, Vondran says.

“Our mission is to let anybody sit at a terminal and access anything they want,” she says.

Including a new account.

“I’d like to see the day,” Vondran says, “when a client will be able to call an agency and introduce a new opportunity – a new campaign or a product – and have our agency be able to respond to that in a truly integrated fashion. Not the account people doing what they have to do, then turning it over to the creative people to do what they have to do – responding to the client’s request sequentially.

“I look to the day when all our people can be pulled together and work on the opportunity at hand simultaneously. There’s just an energy from everybody being in the same place at the same time.

“It’s not just being faster, cheaper. It’s being faster, cheaper, better.”

Faster, cheaper and better already are words agency executives readily associate with computerization, ADWEEK’s survey shows. A stunning 94.9% of agency executives polled report that computers have increased employee productivity.

Almost as many – 90.7% – say computers have given their agencies faster turnaround. A solid 81.4% say computers have increased their business. Some 77.3% say computers have increased profitability, and 65.9% report that computers have reduced their overhead.

Even account retention – the perennial thorn of ad agencies – is seen as being improved: 61.9% of those surveyed say computers have led to keeping more accounts. Smaller agencies see particular value here: Nearly 70% of them say computers help retention.

Meanwhile, the problems computers pose are not seen as being so significant. The biggest is vendor support. A hefty 34% of respondents say they were disappointed by the level of vendor support they had gotten. But only 22.6% say systems failures led to substantial losses in productivity. And only 16.5% say their agencies have found computer systems hard to use.

The most significant measure of computers’ acceptance in the agency workplace, however, may be the feelings agency staff have about the printed word and the electronic word. Considering the centuries worth of head start the printed page has on its diode peer, electronic information has made surprising inroads. Close to 9 in 10 respondents say their employees use information in both printed and electronic form. Only a slight majority say their staff prefer the printed word.

And 98% expect their agencies’ use of electronic information to increase in the next two years.

At the same time, 53.6% also expect their agencies to use more printed information – a tip of the hat, perhaps, to the glut of information created by computer databases.

More, to be sure, seems to be the theme for the future of computers in agencies. More uses: Over three-quarters of agencies surveyed say they are generating their own internal databases. Well over half of the agencies are drawing on external psychographic and demographic databases.

But with more uses come more challenges. For many agencies, the most significant one will be figuring out how to connect computers, both internally and externally, to clients, print shops and other sources. “Integrating all of the applications is going to be key,” says Mead Data’s Beason. “Like other companies, agencies recognize that they’re going to have to have their computers talk to each other.”

“Integration is the next frontier,” says Mary Henesy, president of Professional Software Systems of New York. “It is just beginning.”

To be sure, only 49.5% of ad agencies say they have linked their computers to other computers in their office. A slim 23.7% have linked their computers to computers in sister offices of their agencies, and 20.6% have linked their computers to clients’ computers. One-third of the agencies do not have their computers linked to anything, except many do backup their systems to external hard drives. This can great lessen the need for data recovery of any kind, as explained here.

Part of the problem is the variety of hardware systems and software applications that exist within agencies. Beyond making minicomputer and mainframe computer systems coexist, agencies have a dizzying array of different kinds of personal computers. Agency executives listed 16 different brands of personal computers.

More than half of the ad agencies – 55.2%, to be exact – have Apple Macintoshes; 43.8% have IBM PC ATs or XTs; 16.7% have IBM PS/2 computers; 14.6% have Compaq computers; 14.6% have PC clones; and 7.3% have Wangs.

Even greater, it seems, is the proliferation of different kinds of software. According to agency executives, Lotus 1,2,3 remains the program of choice in spreadsheets. Donovan Data Systems appears to hold a solid leadership position in media-buying software for mid-range to mainframe computers, and claims that agencies use this software to handle three-quarters of their media spending.

Media Management Plus claims the leadership position for media-buying software for PC-based agency computer systems, with an installed base of about 1,000 agencies.

Manas, Adware, IMS and Telmar are among other brands that have gained adherents in media planning and buying.

On the creative side, popular programs range from Aldus’ PageMaker, Persuasion and FreeHand programs, and Adobe Illustrator – the programs that led the way in desktop publishing – to Quark XPress, the Cricket line, Letraset Ready-Set-Go, Claris MacDraw to Microsoft Power-Point and Silicon Beach’s SuperPaint.

The result, for most agencies, is a tool box of programs that are drawn for specific, individual tasks.

While logic would seem to dictate that the number of software programs in the market would shrink, as the market matures and titles shake out, many observers expect the number to increase. Having installed their “base” systems, agencies are ready to move on to more sophisticated applications that will give them “more data and better ways to look at it,” says Judy Hollis, vice president of marketing for agencies for Marketing Resources Plus, the publisher of Media Management Plus. MRP, for example, plans in the coming months to release media-planning and buying programs for business-to-business magazines and cable television.

“We think there are still huge chances for growth,” Hollis says.

The growing number of hardware and software choices is, in turn, leading a growing number of agencies to bring in specialists, with titles like chief information officer, to manage their computer systems.

Ogilvy’s Louise Vondran, for example, on coming to the agency two years ago from a similar post at Johnson & Johnson, says she found “a tremendous plate of different software programs” in use at the agency. Gradually the agency has begun trying to “knit” them together. Creatives now, for instance, can trade information electronically with their counterparts in account management. But doing so takes more keystroke steps than the agency would like.

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