AOL Streamlines Search for Creative Partner

America Online is fast-tracking its agency-selection process, planning to name finalists for crea tive chores on its estimated $150-200 million domestic account this week, according to pitch instructions obtained by Adweek.

Led by new evp of brand marketing Len Short, the Dulles, Va., client seeks to re place incumbent Gotham, the Interpublic Group shop it dismissed two weeks ago [Adweek, Jan. 13]. Media, with IPG’s Initiative Media, is not part of the review. Boston-based consultant Pile and Co. is handling the search.

AOL sees itself as the Coca-Cola of Internet firms, and wants a broad yet supple strat egy—ana lo gous to Coke’s “Real” variations—that can be modified into the future, sources said.

About 15-20 agencies were asked to give a strategic take on the brand, including Havas’ Arnold, Bos ton, and Euro RSCG MVBMS, New York; Publicis’ Fal lon, Minne apolis; IPG’s Carmi chael-Lynch, Min nea po lis, New York shops Bo zell and FCB, and The Martin Agency, Richmond, Va.; Omnicom’s BBDO and DDB, both New York; and WPP’s Ber lin Cameron/Red Cell and J. Walter Thompson, both New York, sources said. Omnicom’s TBWA\Chiat\Day and IPG’s Deutsch were invited, but will not participate.

Short, who joined AOL on Jan. 9, worked with BBDO and Martin when he was at Charles Schwab.

The client chose an invitation-only approach to speed the process and avoid potential conflicts, sources said. However, three invited Omnicom shops—Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, GSD&M and Merkley Newman Harty & Partners—declined to take part, citing their work with telecom SBC Communications, sources said.

AOL instructs shops to, “Engage in a brand analysis of AOL, including your perspective of brand perception in the market, product issues, prioritized competitive challenges, etc.,” according to pitch materials.

Agencies are asked to submit materials by noon today. Finalists will be notified on Friday. Creative presentations are set for late February, with a decision shortly thereafter.

The shops and consultant declined comment or could not be reached. An AOL rep declined comment.