After an 11-month review, American Trans Air decided not to hire a lead agency for its $14 million account and instead assigned a "major" ad campaign to Publicis In Mid America to be executed later this year, the carrier said late Friday.
The Indianapolis airline may resume its search for a full-service shop in in the fall, and agencies could be re-contacted then.
In the meantime, Publicis will begin to service the account, said Barry Krause, the Chicago shop's chairman and chief executive officer. "Right now all I can say is we have received an engagement ring, not a marriage license," Krause said.
ATA officials could not be reached to elaborate.
Martin/Williams, which had pitched a full-service strategy incorporating public relations and event marketing, had gone through "two-to-three" rounds of financial negotiations and was thought to be in line for the business, sources said.
But the Minneapolis shop's lack of a Chicago presence was thought to be a big hurdle for the airline, which is building a major hub at Chicago's Midway Airport, sources said.
In December, Martin/Williams was part of a narrowed list of four contenders for the air carrier's business, which included Bozell, Grant/Jacoby, Euro RSCG Tatham and J. Walter Thompson, all in Chicago. In January, Publicis was asked by ATA to make a pitch, Krause said.
Internal restructuring at ATA led to a number of delays during the review, which began in last May.
In the past, ATA has worked with shops on a project basis. Media is handled by Kelly, Scott & Madison, Chicago. Hispanic marketing is done by San Jose & Associates, Chicago.