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Yahoo! Orders Up a WPP Unit All Its Own for $40 Mil. Account

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The holding company claim of wall-to-wall marketing support influences some clients more than others. For Yahoo!, it was the catalyst in a search that led the Internet company to WPP Group last week—and gave birth to a new shop to handle the estimated $40 million creative, branding and media account. The startup, Soho Square, will work only on the Yahoo! business, at least initially.

The contest turned on the client's desire for integrated solutions. "The basic model ... today is a total, integrated program," said Murray Gaylord, client vp of brand marketing. "We know that WPP as an organization believes it—they've been very close to that model early on. So we wanted to create the agency of tomorrow that gives us all the components ... in one place."

Named for a spot in London's fashionable Soho district not far from WPP headquarters, the new entity was created three months ago, after Yahoo! launched a review that included Havas' Black Rocket Euro RSCG in San Francisco—the incumbent—and WPP's Young & Rubicam in New York, which was cut early on.

In essence, the shop, based in New York, will be Yahoo!'s exclusive portal into WPP, said Soho Square managing partner Elizabeth Talerman, 39. "I am going to totally focus on Yahoo! right now, and that will likewise be Soho Square's chief focus for the short term," she said.

Talerman was previously president of her own marketing consulting firm, Talerman + Partners, which handled projects for clients including IBM, Virginia Commonwealth University, Equinox Fitness Clubs and The Robin Hood Foundation. Before that, she was IBM brand account director at OgilvyOne from 1996-98.

WPP executives representing "the online agencies, the offline, research, media buying and planning, PR," all took part in the Soho Square pitch, Talerman said. She declined to specify who the participants were, but explained that she had her pick among 90 business units. "[I] was lucky to pull some of the best and brightest across the WPP network," she said.

Talerman, who reports to WPP CEO Martin Sorrell, plans to announce her creative team within the next several weeks. She said she will bring in talent both from within the holding company and from outside.

Neither Sorrell nor a WPP rep was available for comment.

Yahoo!'s relationship with WPP began three years ago through Y&R's Brand Asset Valuator, a global brand survey. Gaylord said the company sought an agency that understood the changes in the online advertising landscape and felt that WPP had the resources it needed.

While various WPP agencies have worked together on integrated initiatives for clients, Gaylord noted that, "this the first time it has been formalized into a single entity."

As for Yahoo! properties such as Hot Jobs —which is handled by Omnicom Group's Brand Architecture International in New York—Gaylord said: "We don't think it's appropriate to speculate about specific properties at this time. However, we view Soho Square as a partnership for the long term, and we plan to have them lead the majority of our branding for the U.S.-based businesses."

At Black Rocket, meanwhile, president John Yost said the agency has not made any determinations about layoffs. Yahoo! was the largest client of the 25-person office, which continues to handle See's Candies and project work for Condé Nast. A Havas rep declined comment on the fate of the office.