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Wireless Carrier to Call on Austin Kelley

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ATLANTA At least seven agencies have advanced in the review for the advertising account of Leap Wireless International, sources said.

The San Diego-based client is preparing to meet later this month with shops situated within two hours of company headquarters or with offices in Leap markets, sources said.

Those contending for the estimated $15-20 million creative and media account are: Interpublic Group shops Austin Kelley Advertising in Atlanta, Campbell-Ewald in Santa Monica, Calif., and Suissa Miller in Los Angeles; independents davidandgoliath in Los Angeles, O'Leary & Partners in Irvine, Calif., and Bernstein-Rein in Kansas City, Mo.; and an office of MARC USA, which is based in Pittsburgh. Agency representatives either could not be reached or declined comment.

The four-year incumbent is The Johnson Group, an independent shop in Chattanooga, Tenn. Johnson was invited to participate in the review but declined, sources said.

Select Resources International in West Hollywood, Calif., is leading the review, sources said. SRI declined comment. Representatives for Leap in San Diego did not return calls.

Chemistry checks are planned for the end of July, sources said. The client is then expected to cut to three or four agencies, which will present creative. A decision is expected by the end of August.

Leap, a wireless services company that was spun off from Qualcomm in 1998, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April. Its subsidiary, Cricket Communications, has 1.5 million customers in 40 markets in 20 states in the U.S. Cricket's service features unlimited flat-rate local calling, but no roaming.

Approximately a year ago, Johnson hired creative director Mike Fazende to upgrade the advertising, especially for Cricket. The shop's recent work included television spots tagged "Cricket. It could be your only phone." The commercials told consumers to ditch their landline telephones and featured an army of green crickets.

Leap spent $28 million on ads in 2002 and $2.5 million through April 2003, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.