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Advertising agencies used to be a CEO's most important ally, but their importance has waned over the last three decades as they ceded influence to management consulting firms and other experts.

So said Steven J. Heyer, president and chief operating officer of Coca-Cola Co.'s Coca-Cola Ventures, speaking at the AdWatch: Outlook 2002 conference.

Mr. Heyer observed that agencies seem more focused on producing good creative than planning media and strategy and in delivering integrated campaigns.

Flanked by a table with several bottles of Coca-Cola -- including the new Vanilla Coke he had brought with him from the soft-drink giant's headquarters in Atlanta -- Mr. Heyer said good, strategic product placement or community outreach programs can be more effective than 30-second TV commercials.

"There is an enormous opportunity for dollar-shifting between and among media," he said. "There is an lot of value in an awful lot of places."

Internet, however, is not one of them, as far as brand-building is concerned, he said. The Web is good for data collection, direct marketing and communicating with consumers.

He said because 70% of Internet use is for e-mail, it suggests to him e-mail is a good tool for uniting people.

"Right now, the Internet is a way to build a dialogue, gather data and make offers to consumers," he said. In time, however, "as broadband expands, and interactivity and TV are better developed, there may be


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