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Shops Question CNN Assignment

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CNN is at it again, dangling in front of agencies a corporate ad assignment that at first blush seems tempting and prestigious.

But the cable network has been here before, and the shops contacted this time are pausing before jump ing in.

"A lot of these media companies and networks—and CNN is notorious for this—say they are going to spend $40 million," one executive said. "What they mean is that they are going to spend the equivalent of $39.5 million on paid media that is not commissionable, and end up giving the agency $10 and a free lunch."

Nevertheless, others see the potential to do great work, and wonder if CNN, creatively, can become the next ESPN.

"It's really hard to turn your back on a brand opportunity like that," said another exec.

Still, three agencies that have worked for CNN in the past five years have little to show for their efforts.

In 1996, Deutsch won an assignment valued at $20 million. But the business never materialized, and CNN and Deutsch parted ways. Two years later, Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos landed what was billed as a $25 million account. But in 1999, after launching a campaign tagged, "You are what you know," the client and agency split.

Then, last year, Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmet terer/Euro RSCG won consolidated ad duties on both CNN.com and CNN after a pitch for CNN.com. At the time, billings were estimated at $50 million [Adweek, March 6]. To date, however, no work has been produced. CNN remains a client; MVBMS declined comment on CNN's latest overtures.

Among those approached this time are GSD&M in Austin, Texas, Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco, Leo Burnett, Chicago, and New York shops Deutsch, Young & Rubicam and Merkley Newman Harty, sources said. Interested shops were asked to submit reels and case histories, according to sources. Jennifer Boardman, a marketing manager at CNN in Atlanta, is said to be collecting the data.

CNN promised to get back to the shops by mid-March, said sources.