Summer is basically over, and there is more than a change of seasons in the air. Much of the industry chatter lately has focused on a growing sense that business is picking up out there. Could it be true?Agencies are telling us that they are seeing more new business opportunities now than they have in a long time. Corporations appear to be considering new programs and opening their wallets and strategic plans a little wider. A wary and weary agency community showing signs of optimism is encouraging, but there's a lot of wood-knocking and finger-crossing going on at the same time. Clearly no one is taking anything for granted, and 2004 planning, already a difficult exercise, is made all the more complex when fear tangles with hope. Right now, I am in the middle of interviewing several large-agency CEOs, on background, to assess current market sentiment. A roundup of these interviews will appear in the September 15 Analysis. For the moment, a few trends are emerging from conversations with people at all levels. One is that the pressure to identify, recruit, and retain top talent is growing even greater. It's no surprise that one of the areas where that pressure is the greatest is healthcare, which has remained somewhat stable, and where steep learning curves are not generally indulged. Last week's acquisition of Applied Communication's PR business may have evoked nostalgic memories of the M&A frenzy of a few years ago. But it does not herald a new era of that activity. The truth is that many firms, when they see a needed expertise, would rather hire it than acquire it. One thing that is fueling that rationale is a belief that many have voiced - that PR agencies have learned the hard way how to better run their businesses. Client expectations don't always make that easy. That's not to say that layoffs and account losses aren't still happening. But if this current burst of optimism turns out to be no more than a momentary blip, the return to reality will be that much swifter. ICCO Summit will prove well worth the trip The ICCO Summit, which is being held in Berlin, Germany on October 16-17, produced in association with PRWeek, is bringing together corporate and agency leaders from around the globe to talk about communications in a changing and tumultuous world. With many eyes focused firmly on budgets, and a lingering reticence to travel, some may question the value of attending a conference like this. But the ICCO Summit offers a unique opportunity to test the nature of the international PR industry. PRWeek's report on global PR (July 21 issue) revealed that communicators are under greater pressure than ever to understand the cultural nuances of the regions in which their companies or clients operate. The summit, with speakers from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the US, from such companies as Coca-Cola, GM, Nike, and FedEx, provides an ideal forum to promote greater collaboration across borders. For more information or to register, log on to www.iccopr.com/home/summit.cfm.