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CVS Talks with Agencies Advance

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BOSTON -- CVS, the nation's No.1 pharmacy chain, this week met with shops about its advertising account and may be gearing up to make a switch before the end of the month, sources said.

A CVS representative declined comment. Both creative and media chores could move pending the outcome of the search, sources said.

The account has been with Bates, New York, for the past several years. Bates did not return calls. Woonsocket, R.I.-based CVS spent $35 million on ads last year, per CMR.

CVS would strongly prefer a New England agency with national service credentials and some retail experience, sources said. Executives at Arnold, Mullen and Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos -- all of which would meet those criteria and have no obvious conflicts -- either did not return calls or declined to comment.

Once source who requested anonymity said Hill, Holliday may have the inside track, at least partly because FleetBoston Financial chairman Terry Murray sits on the CVS board of directors. FleetBoston is Hill, Holliday's largest client. Also working in the Interpublic Group agency's favor, sources said, is the fact that CVS recently began working with Hill, Holliday on "relationship marketing projects."

Driving the process is the client's continued expansion in the midwest as well as several recent executive changes. Helena Foulkes one month ago was promoted to svp, advertising and marketing. She reports to Chris Bodine, who was upped to evp, merchandising and marketing after Larry Zigerelli resigned in January.