Grey Teams With Atlanta Shop in BellSouth Pitch

ATLANTA–An alliance between Grey and 360 to pitch BellSouth’s $120 million ad account could lead to a buyout of the Southeast shop.

Joel Babbit’s Atlanta agency and New York-based Grey combined resources to get into the finals of the BellSouth review.

“We felt we brought something to the table, but not everything needed to win the business ourselves,” said 360 chairman Bob Cohn. “Our option was not to pitch, or find somebody and do it with them.”

Grey executives declined comment, but sources said the agency is looking to expand its Southeast presence, with Atlanta a target market.

Sources said that Babbit and Grey executives, including Steve Blamer, president, New York, had been in discussions about a merger centered around 360 and the GCI Group, Grey’s public relations arm. “The concept was to form the largest integrated marketing agency in the Southeast, said one source. “Then BellSouth came up and added fuel to the whole thing.”

BellSouth executives did not return calls. The Atlanta-based telecom has made it clear that, whoever wins, a strong local presence is critical. For example, BaylessCronin will be assisting incumbent Merkley Newman Harty & Partners in its final presentation. Other finalists are The Richards Group in Dallas and Arnold in Boston.

“Grey didn’t have a local connection and we do,” said Cohn. “We work on major projects and handle their [BellSouth’s] public relations business.” (360 won that account in a joint pitch with Porter Novelli earlier this year.)

Whether the merger is contingent upon a victory with BellSouth will be among the issues decided in a meeting between the two shops scheduled for this week.

360 was founded by Babbit, formerly of Babbit & Reiman, in 1995. Clients include Southern Co. and The Coca-Cola Co.