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BellSouth Puts $120 Mil. in Play

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BellSouth has put its residential creative and media planning account in review.

The Atlanta-based telecom, acting through search consultancy Wanamaker Associates, this month sent blind requests for proposals to as many as 20 agencies, most of which are non-roster shops.

Ken Bowes, Wanamaker president, had no comment, but Jeff Battcher, BellSouth's corporate communications director, confirmed the review for the estimated $120 million account is pro ceeding as planned.

The client's goal is to combine creative and media planning at one shop. Creative, now split between WestWayne in Atlanta (Yellow Pages), Merkley Newman Harty & Partners and I2i Communications, both in New York, and BaylessCronin in Atlanta, will be consolidated. Initiative Media in Atlanta handles media planning and buying; the latter is not in review. All incumbents are defending.

"We're doing this because our customers are telling us they want bundles," said Battcher. "They want all communications services from one company, so instead of some of the work going to WestWayne and others to Merkley Newman Harty, we're going to consolidate."

The move comes as Merkley is experiencing some upper-level management changes. Just two weeks ago, president and co-founder Steve Harty, who watched over the BellSouth business, left the agency.

"While we're looking to solidify this into one agency, that doesn't mean we have to," said Battcher. "If one has strong creative, and an other has strong strategic planning, we could split it."

According to Battcher, the client wants an agency that can deliver creative on all aspects of its business, including Internet, pager service, cellular and entertainment.

Sources said Grey in New York, Arnold in Bos ton, D'Arcy Masius Ben ton & Bowles in Troy, Mich., and New York-based Bates North America were among those that received the RFP.

According to CMR, BellSouth's media expenditures dropped dramat ic ally from $120 million in 2000 to $15 million in the January-June 2001 period. Battcher said BellSouth hoped to have a new agency in place by the end of the year.

The review will not affect BellSouth's ethnic or specialized agencies. Relationships with Cingular Wire less, 40 percent of which is owned by BellSouth, or its agency, BBDO, are not affected, said Batt cher.