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Contenders Line Up for Microsoft's U.S. Media Assignment

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Contenders are lining up for Microsoft's U.S. media assignment, which went into review earlier this month.

VivaKi, the Publicis Groupe media management arm, is putting together a pitch team comprised of talent from several agencies, including (potentially) Starcom, Zenith, Optimedia, Digitas and Razorfish, according to sources. The approach is similar to the one it's taking in the ongoing Disney review.

It is unlikely that the VivaKi team would include staffers from MediaVest, given that agency's win last year of the media assignment for Yahoo, a Microsoft competitor.

Sources also indicate that WPP Group's MEC and Aegis Group's Carat are competing for the Microsoft business.

The client spent about $345 million on measured media through November 2010 and about $420 million in 2009, according to Nielsen. Those figures exclude digital expenditures.

The incumbent is Interpublic Group's Universal McCann, which is defending. UM has handled the account for more than a decade, in tandem with sister creative agency McCann Erickson.

The relationship has had its ups and downs. When Nick Brien, now the head of McCann Worldgroup, first joined IPG six years ago as global CEO of UM, he spent a lot of time in Redwood, Calif., repairing ties.

On the creative side, McCann Erickson's lead agency status on Microsoft has waned as the marketer has increasingly dispersed business to other shops in recent years. Most notably, Crisper Porter + Bogusky won the Windows account in 2008.

For Microsoft, a major agency issue is getting creative and media shops to work more effectively together, according to Mich Mathews, svp for the client's central marketing group. Some of the best work she's seen "is when those two [media and creative] are working in tandem," she told Adweek at the Cannes advertising festival last June. But it doesn’t always happen and often it falls to the client to force the collaboration, she added.

The agencies declined to comment, referring calls to the client. A client rep didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.