Advertising At Risk From the “Millennium Bug?”

Los Angeles-based Western International Media is urging the advertising industry to get serious about the year 2000 computer problem and issued a call for agencies, stations and publications to work together on a solution.

Commercials that don’t run, commercials that run at the wrong time, bills that total 99 years worth of expenses–these are just some of the potential nightmare scenarios that might become reality if the advertising business does not address the threat posed by the notorious “millennium bug,” the company said.

Industry efforts to deal with the programming glitch that could shut down much of the computerized world in the year 2000 have been slow to materialize, said Yvonne Fogelman, senior vice president, information technologies for Western International Media.

“The industry doesn’t appear to be taking as aggressive an approach as it should,” cautioned Fogelman. “In fact, we’re concerned that a lot of the smaller agencies haven’t started to address the issue. The ‘Y2K’ problem could harm the ad industry’s ability to deliver and receive services–the interdependencies are very complex and serious.”

“Media plans for advertising in the new century will be formulated as early as next summer, and financial forecasts for 2000 and beyond are already being written,” she said.

Western and its parent company, The Interpublic Group, have already consulted with agencies, stations and publications with which they do business to formulate a common front against the threat.

“In the media business, we are preoccupied with preparing for the challenges of a new millennium,” said Michael E. Kassan, Western president and chief operating officer. “But if the industry doesn’t unite behind a comprehensive plan to counter the Y2K threat, nothing else we do will matter. That’s why I have instructed our team at Western to take the lead in galvanizing the industry to work in concert on the problem.”

Western said it has completed an inventory of all of its proprietary systems, as well as those of its vendors and business partners. Understanding that 100% compliance is unlikely, the media management firm has developed a prioritized list by which problems will be addressed, ranging from operations “critical to the survival of the company” to those that are merely cosmetic.

Additionally, Western has created a computer operation that mirrors the company’s production computer environment. Within this test environment, Western can run and test programs as if it were already the year 2000.

With billings exceeding $5 billion and more than 40 offices in North America, Europe and Asia, Western International Media has specialized units in interactive media, Yellow Pages advertising, direct mail, direct response TV, promotions and incentive programs.

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