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After losing a glut of business in the past 18 months, Bates is in jeopardy of losing its $240 million Wendy's International account, sources said last week.

It is believed that in recent weeks agencies have been approached by Wendy's and/or Gary Steele, who has overseen the account at Bates for the past 11 years and remains tight with the client.

Sources said Steele has indicated that the $240 million U.S. account and the account team working on the business may be ready for a move. Steele, evp, managing director of Bates Retail, denies it. "I'm not shopping the business," he said. "I don't purport to have the right to do that." He added that Bates is working on spots for a September Wendy's/Blockbuster promotion.

But sources said he has the blessing of Wendy's to hold talks with other shops.

"Our relationship with the account team is solid," said a Wendy's representative, who declined further comment about the Dublin, Ohio-based client's commitment to the agency, which has handled the account since 1987.

Some 55-60 people work on the fast-food chain's advertising at Bates' New York headquarters and its full-service Columbus, Ohio, office.

During the past 18 months, the Bates network has lost upward of $400 million in billings, including Hyundai's corporate and dealer accounts ($330 million combined), CVS ($35 million), Carter-Wallace ($30 million), Dept. of Defense Joint Recruitment ($15-20 million) and Sauza ($15 million).