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Smith Barney Talks to Shops

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NEW YORK Smith Barney, nine months after hiring Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, is talking to other agencies about creative and media duties on its estimated $20 million account, sources said.

The search was triggered by what Smith Barney perceives to be a conflict caused by Hill, Holliday taking on the global wealth and investment management division of Bank of America in January, said sources.

And, although the accounts are handled by different offices of the Interpublic Group shop—BofA in Boston, Smith Barney in New York—the client remains uncomfortable. Estimated spending behind the BofA account exceeds $25 million.

Smith Barney, a division of Citigroup Global Capital Markets in New York, provides brokerage, investment banking and asset management services to corporations, governments and individuals, according to smithbarney.com.

Company executives have met with about half-dozen outside shops and will soon invite a handful of agencies to pitch the business, said sources. Hill, Holliday is not expected to defend.

Smith Barney has hired Source Martin here to manage the search. The consultancy did not return calls and client executives could not immediately be reached. The company aims to select an agency by May.

Hill, Holliday's current campaign for the client profiles individuals facing life challenges under the banner of "Confessions of Working Wealth." A TV spot, for example, depicts a fifty-something executive mulling his future after the sudden death of a longtime business partner. "Twenty-seven years I worked with him. Building up the business from nothing," says the man, in a voiceover. "He never took a sick day in his life. And bang. A heart attack."

He concludes: "And now I have a new partner and a 51 percent shareholder: his 24-year-old son. I think I'm about to have a heart attack." Another male voice ends the spot by saying, "Throw out your notions of what you can talk about with a financial advisor. Come to Smith Barney. Where wealth works."

Hill, Holliday bested Publicis Groupe's Fallon to land the account in June 2006. IPG's McCann Erickson also pitched for the business but was cut before the final selection.

Major media spending behind the brand has hovered around $20 million annually for the past two years. Last year's total was $22 million, up from $18 million in 2005, according to TNS Media Intelligence. The 2004 total exceeded $30 million.