Many may not recognize the advertising agency's name, but the images it creates are everywhere.

The ads for Marriott's Big Boy Restaurants featuring Michael Winslow, the actor from the "Police Academy" movies who does sound effects of foods, from maple syrup pouring from the bottle to Jell-O jiggling on a plate. The Roy Rogers spots featuring a chicken advising customers to eat the hamburger. The Tupperware ads that show the product being burped.

"I don't want to talk a lot about how or why we do it. We do it because it's good advertising," said Mark Goldstein, president of the Bethesda office of Earle Palmer Brown Cos., Washington's largest advertising and public relations agency, as he viewed reels of television advertisements produced by the company.

"Humor sells. Emotions also sell," said Douglas McClatchy, EPB's new executive vice president and creative director, talking about what makes advertising work.

"It's not humor so much. It's irony," counters Goldstein, ignoring his own advice not to analyze. "You think about what will make people change their minds."

In a new campaign for USAir, the multimillion-dollar client that EPB won from J. Walter Thompson earlier this year in a major coup, irony strikes again. An Eskimo sits outside his igloo ice-fishing in the midst of a swirling snowstorm shouting: "Isn't this weather great?" as his family quietly slips out the door, bags packed for another destination.

But while McClatchy and Goldstein talk about the creative side of the agency, several floors down, in the corner office, president and chief executive Jeremy E. (Jeb) Brown makes it clear that there's more to running the largest agency south of New York City than producing funny, award-winning commercials.

"I've built the agency," said Brown, who joined his father's company in 1974 and took it from a small agency with about 15 employes and just under $3 million a year in billings to an agency with 375 employes, 220 of them in the Washington office, and $142 million in billings last year.

"I'm not a creative person ... I'm a good business thinker, good at helping people solve business problems," said Brown, who leaves the day-to-day creative decisions to others.

"Jeb has superb ability as a great businessman," said his father, Earle Palmer Brown, who started the company from an office in Washington's Statler Hilton Hotel in 1953 and is chairman of the board.

These days, Earle Brown is involved in civic activities and his duties as incoming chairman of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. "In Teddy Roosevelt's words, I show the flag," he said.

He is the first to admit that there have been some startling changes in the business since he started it with such clients as Hilton, Thompson's Dairy and Prince George's County developer Albert W. Turner. "I would work directly with the owners of the business," Brown said of his early days. "When I went out to meet with him {Turner}, he was literally up on the roof nailing shingles. He came down to talk to me."

Brown said the atmosphere for ad agencies here has changed. "Washington was always considered an advertising backwater," he said. "Today, I don't think it is."

In fact, Washington was enough of a backwater that when Jeb Brown started his career in the business, he shunned his father's small Bethesda agency for the big-time Chicago offices of Leo Burnett.

"Washington was nothing ... {it} was the last place you'd go in the agency business," Brown said of his attitude in the early 1970s.

Today, the agency is the largest in the Southeast, with offices in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Richmond, Newark and Chicago, and such clients as Amtrak, Airbus Industrie, American Security Bank, Geico Insurance, Hechinger's and the Washington Times. The agency projects billings at about $187 million this year, making it much more than what the elder Brown terms a "family business."

Still, there are no plans to take the fast-growing company public, according to Jeb Brown. "I wouldn't definitely rule it out, but it's not something we're planning for," he said.

In the past year, the agency has won two Effi awards from the American Marketing Association for advertising, a Silver Anvil award for public relations, an Echo award for direct marketing and a Cannes Gold Lion for advertising. AdWeek magazine named the company its agency of the year, and Brown has acquired new agencies in Atlanta and Alexandria.

Still, while Brown Cos. has lost its small-time image, the Washington area has made little progress as a power in the advertising world, according to the younger Brown. "Washington is no longer a nowhere town, but it has yet to be seen as a somewhere town in advertising," Jeb Brown said.

New York's agencies commanded 43.2 percent of the $44.7 billion billed by U.S. agencies last year, according to Advertising Age. Washington remained a distant 18th in the survey, with $152.4 million in billings for its agencies. Of that number, $105 million was attributed to EPB's Washington office.

While many of EPB's clients are national firms, many large Washington accounts still take their advertising dollars outside the area. MCI Communications Corp., for example, changed agencies this year and, as it has in the past, took its $40 million advertising account to the Big Apple.

Earle Palmer Brown is "one agency, big deal," said Gary Tobin, a spokesman for MCI. "In New York there are hundreds of agencies. ... I'm not knocking Washington, but there tend to be more good people in places that have competition."

Washington has a number of smaller advertising firms or offices of national firms, including Needham Harper Worldwide; Demaine Vickers & Associates; Stackig, Sanderson and White Inc., and Henry J. Kaufman & Associates Inc.

However, the advertising competition in Washington has indeed dwindled in the past year. J. Walter Thompson USA, perhaps the most recognizable of agencies in the area, closed its 75-person Washington office last November after losing two major Washington accounts -- USAir and Federal National Mortgage Corp. -- worth about $16 million. Kal & Salan, a Bethesda agency that as Kal Ehrlich & Merrick in the 1950s and '60s had represented some of Washington's premier accounts, shut down in February.

In what is an uncertain environment for some ad agencies, EPB has continued to expand. Since 1976, Jeb Brown has acquired or formed a joint venture deal with seven advertising, public relations or design firms. The most recent was the acquisition of the Morgan Agency, a small Alexandria firm that had declared bankruptcy, and a merger with Burton-Campbell Inc. of Atlanta, that city's fifth-largest ad firm.

The acquisition of the newly named Burton-Campbell/EPB is an example of the pitfalls of the agency business. Because of what Brown calls an "incredible streak of bad luck" that has befallen the Atlanta office, the joint venture hasn't gone as smoothly as the ad agencies' executives has hoped.

While the $70 million agency was being merged with EPB, Ryder Trucks, the agency's largest client with about $20 million in advertising business, had just come aboard, producing a terrible strain on the agency's resources, according to Michael Turner, vice chairman of EPB and chairman of the Atlanta office. While trying to tend to Ryder's needs, they "took their eye off the ball on a couple of other clients," including Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida, and lost that account, Turner said.

Then, when Ryder moved to New York, the company took its account there. Shortly after that, Allegheny Industries, the agency's second-largest account, sold off most of its businesses and no longer needed an ad agency.

Yet Brown contends that in spite of the Atlanta agency's losses, it should be at break-even within a year. And Turner, who divides his time between the Bethesda and Atlanta offices, said prospects for the long-term health of the Atlanta office are good because of the high quality of the 50 or so staff members there.

"We're betting everything right now on growth and the acquisition of new clients there," he said.

Growth is a buzzword that interests Jeb Brown -- known as a bottom-line man -- enough to have hired his own mergers and acquisitions specialist. But while the agency has grown by acquiring other firms, Brown, who has an MBA from Harvard, protests that if the company's sole objective were to acquire, that would be putting the cart before the horse.

What he really gets excited about is his system of using all the departments of the firm to work together on a client's account. Instead of the advertising department competing with public relations or sales promotion or direct marketing, as at most agencies, individual teams representing each of the different functions work on a client's account.

Brown is not the only one at the agency excited about the concept. While creative people and managers alike admit that it's probably more expensive than the traditional approach, they agree that it works best for the client.

Turner, who has been with EPB for about a year and a half after spending 15 years at Ogilvy & Mather, said Brown's system was a difficult adjustment for him.

"The major difference is the total integration of public relations, direct response, advertising and design," said Turner. "Although most agencies have two or more of those disciplines, I have never seen it integrated the way it is here. You feel you can talk to the client about his problems. You come to the meeting with four or five arrows in your quiver rather than just one."

"It's not that selfish attitude that 'I have to make money for the agency,'" said McClatchy of the system. "If it's a problem that can be solved through direct marketing that's best for the client, the company still makes money."

Steve Ellis, the new president of EPB Public Relations, said that while 60 percent of the company's business is advertising, the integrated approach means public relations is just as important. "I don't feel PR is a stepchild because it is a vital part of the marketing mix," he said.

While Jeb Brown would like to be recognized for his company's unique approach to account planning -- it's "the wave of the future," he said -- he's also interested in doing great creative advertising so Washington won't be considered the backwater of the industry forever. To that end, he has concentrated on hiring good people.

The roster of top executives and creative people at the firm reads like a homecoming directory for Leo Burnett, Ogilvy & Mather, Young & Rubicam and J. Walter Thompson. Yet turnover of midlevel employes has been a problem for the agency as talented people get frustrated attempting to work their way up. In addition, several key managers have left recently, including Ron Mueller, president of EPB Public Relations, who cited personal reasons for his departure.

At times the firm has almost served as an employment agency for other companies, virtually populating 10 local advertising firms, two or three public relations agencies and several design firms in the market as employes break away to start their own agencies.

Although Brown said the atmosphere at the company is more stable now than it was 10 or 15 years ago, former employes say the constant turnover is a problem both inside the agency and for clients, who often find people working on their accounts switching to other agencies.

"I think the agency does excellent work for its clients, but it sometimes does that in spite of internal problems," said one former employe who asked not to be named. "The company will acquire significant new business, but then won't add more people. People wind up doing more work for the same money and less appreciation."

The turnover problem may or may not contribute to the company's creative reputation, which has been less than stellar in some quarters in spite of the agency's high growth and recent awards. Adweek has called the creative product "sometimes corny," though clients seem more than pleased.

"One of the common descriptions of EPB is that it's a good solid agency but that it's not great as a creative agency," said a spokesman for the Washington Times, which recently hired EPB to handle its $1 million account. "We've been very pleased and find them superior in creativity."

Few competing agency managers will comment on the work of EPB. But Henry Kaufman, former head of the Washington agency bearing his name and now a consultant to agencies including EPB, said: "When an agency emerges steadily over a period of years, it's no fluke. Some agencies can shine for a year or two and then you don't hear from them anymore."

That didn't help EPB hold on to the $5 million account of Marriott's Big Boy Restaurant franchises, however. It recently lost the account, but still serves Marriott-owned Big Boy Restaurant accounts. The firm also recently lost a $5 million account for Sheraton Hotels Corp., which decided to consolidate its U.S. advertising with Della Femina, Travisano & Partners, which has its international advertising account.

Brown, who said the firm has already more than made up for the lost business with new accounts, is philosophical about accounts that go by the wayside, as he is about the business in general. "It's a very fragile business," he said. "I wouldn't be in it if I weren't trying to do something interesting."