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Sony Pictures Media Buying in Play

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It's a familiar scenario: A new marketing boss arrives, admits no dissatisfaction with the incumbent, but launches a review anyway to explore options.

Sony Pictures Entertainment's Jeff Blake is following just that course of action. He is hearing presentations this week from a number of undisclosed media agencies and full-service shops interested in handling the movie studio's $250 million-plus media buying account. Universal McCann, the media agency of McCann-Erickson, currently handles the account, which has had a starring role on McCann's West Coast client roster since 1987.

Blake, Sony Pictures' longtime distribution chief, assumed responsibility for the company's marketing at the end of 2000 as part of a top-level executive reorganization. That shakeup also led to the departure of president of worldwide marketing Bob Levin.

"We're satisfied with the job McCann is doing for us," said Blake. "But any time you make a change in a marketing department, you want to see what's out there—especially someone like myself, who has no preconceived notions" about partnering with a bundled or unbundled shop.

OMD, MindShare, Starcom MediaVest, Initiative Media and MediaCom already handle film studio accounts, either directly or through sister agencies. Among the major media players, only Carat and Zenith Media are conflict-free.

Blake said he expects to make a decision "within several weeks."

The relationship between Sony Pictures and McCann has actually solidified recently after a period of staff turnover at the agency. In March 1999, Cheryl Lodinger, group director on the account, left to become the marketing chief at Columbia Tristar Home Video. Her replacement, Rikki Cohn, departed in February 2000 to run Initiative's San Francisco office. During this period, Sony Pictures audited its media operations, but made no moves to review.

"The turnover has stopped, and they have good people [on the business]," said one source, adding that McCann has a reasonable expectation of a happy ending. "Jeff has a tremendous amount on his plate right now. The last thing he wants to do is start with a new agency."