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HP Is Ping-Pong Inside Publicis

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The story of Hewlett-Packard's $160 million-plus U.S. media buying business is taking on the convoluted characteristics of presidential voting patterns in Florida.

The advertiser's decision earlier this month to consolidate its worldwide advertising at Publicis Groupe sent the account ping-ponging between Publicis units. It went from Zenith Media, which handled HP's $50 million U.S. broadcast business, to Optimedia in New York, Publicis' global media arm, and now to Publicis & Hal Riney in San Francisco.

"Optimedia is the Publicis worldwide media brand, [but] Hewlett-Packard's worldwide media center will be located in San Francisco," said Jane Groft, svp/corporate media director at the Bay Area shop, which has handled HP's business-PC division for the past two years. "So North American media will be purchased by Publicis & Hal Riney here."

Previously, HP's U.S. buying was split between Publicis & Hal Riney, HP corporate-branding agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco and Zenith. Media planning and creative in the U.S. will continue to be split between the two San Francisco agencies.

When HP made known its decision to consolidate earlier this month, Publicis opted to shift buying from Zenith, of which it owns 50 percent through Publicis subsidiary Saatchi & Saatchi, to Optimedia, which Publicis owns completely.

That move sparked a public spat between Zenith, which initially questioned whether the shift violated its media-services contract with Saatchi, and its Parisian parent [Adweek Online, Oct. 27].

It is unclear why the decision was made to house HP at the San Francisco shop.

The client, however, is based in nearby Palo Alto, Calif., and Optimedia handles Lexington, Ky.-based Lexmark Computers, whose estimated media spending is less than $10 million. Publicis in New York referred calls to San Francisco, and both Zenith and Optimedia declined comment.

The maneuvering may not be over, at least within Publicis.

"It's far from done," said one executive, noting that the Publicis units in the U.S. "are a loose confederation of relatives whoserelationship to each other is still kind of crystallizing."