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BBDO Worldwide's Telephone Tempest

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The selection last week of BBDO Worldwide to handle the $250 million Cingular Wireless account has sent shock waves through the Southern ad community and triggered the resignation of one senior marketing executive at the client, sources said.

Wendy Clark, the director of advertising at Atlanta-based Cingular, who served on the selection committee, said her resignation last Thursday was related to the review process, but she would not elaborate.

Sources said Clark made a hasty exit after she and her boss, Larry Powell, vp of advertising, reached a decision with the other members of the selection committee, only to be overturned. That group, which also included Virginia Vann, svp of marketing, and Ken Bowes, of Wanamaker/MMI, the consulting firm that managed the review, is said to have recommended an agency other than BBDO, only to have that choice bypassed by Cingular CEO Stephen Carter, who steered the account to BBDO, sources said.

Neither Powell nor Carter returned calls at press time.

A newly formed venture between Southwestern Bell Communications Wireless and BellSouth Wireless, Cingular had narrowed the review to three finalists: BellSouth incumbent WestWayne in Atlanta and Tampa, Fla.; SBC incumbent GSD&M in Austin, Texas; and BBDO in New York and Atlanta.

The latter had been perceived somewhat as a dark horse, in part because of its nonroster status. Two weeks ago, WestWayne and GSD&M were said to be the front-runners.

Client executives had favored the "great creative" WestWayne pitched, one source said, adding that GSD&M impressed the client with its strong media buying plan. However, sources believe that Carter was dazzled by the cachet a New York agency like BBDO—whose clients include Pepsi, Visa and Gillette—could bring to the launch of a new service to 19 million customers in 38 states.

Agency and client officials declined to comment.

Cingular, which will be serviced from New York and Atlanta, is the largest single account win for the agency's headquarters.

Vann said, "I can promise we did not come to a decision until the day we announced it. We're launching a great new brand. And we're working with an agency that has done wonderful branding work, that has a strong media department, that has done retail work and knows how to get retail work out there."