$50 Mil. Orbitz Mulls 2 Shops

CHICAGO Online travel service Orbitz.com is considering two finalists—Omnicom Group’s Element 79 and Interpublic Group’s Mullen—for creative chores on its estimated $50 million-plus ad account, a client representative confirmed.

The Chicago-based client is splitting with WPP Group’s Young & Rubicam here.

Executives at the agencies either declined comment or did not return calls. An Orbitz representative confirmed the company was splitting with Y&R and was considering the two shops.

The review process is in the final stages and a decision is expected within weeks, per sources, though both Element 79, which is based here, and Mullen, located in Wenham, Mass., might have to make further presentations to client officials.

Orbitz spent $50 million in measured media last year and slightly more than $50 million during the first nine months of 2006, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

A general desire to improve creative, coupled with management changes (Steven Barnhart became president in September), drove the decision to review, sources said.

Recent Orbitz commercials have taken the form of campy game-show parodies.

This marks the third major online travel competition of the year, following reviews by Expedia.com and Priceline.com.

Expedia awarded its $170 million business to Doner in Southfield, Mich., while the $40 million-plus Priceline account went to Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners in Sausalito, Calif. Both Doner and Butler are independents.

Mullen was a finalist for Expedia and competed in the Priceline review, though sources said it withdrew before a decision was made in order to pursue Orbitz.

Expedia leads the domestic online travel category in terms of gross domestic bookings, followed by Orbitz, Travelocity.com and Priceline.

—Adweek staff report