AT&T Wireless Sends Feelers Out

As many as 10 shops were contacted about AT&T Wireless’ $300-400 million account, which was put into review last week, sources said.

Incumbent FCB in San Francisco will defend, but will likely face stiff competition, especially from nonroster shops, sources said.

Agencies with telco experience that do not have wireless conflicts include Fallon, Grey, Leo Burnett, Saatchi & Saatchi, TBWA\Chiat\Day and AT&T roster shop Young & Rubicam.

Mike Keeshan, a former Saatchi & Saatchi executive who heads MagiKbox, a consultancy in Cos Cob, Conn., is managing the review. He declined to say if shops were contacted, but said no RFPs have yet gone out.

He added the review process will take three months.

A key decision maker at the Kirkland, Wash., client is Kim Whitehead, svp of marketing, said sources. She could not be reached.

Fallon’s telco experience comes by way of former client Ameritech. Burnett’s U.S. CEO, Brad Brinegar, used to work on Ameritech when he was at Lowe Lintas & Partners in Chicago. Besides Bell Atlantic, Saatchi also has worked for a telco called Red.

Y&R’s AT&T assignments include corporate image, long distance and an international offering called World Traveler. Another roster shop, Jordan McGrath Case & Partners Euro RSCG, is not pursuing the business, said sources.

The move toward a review began last fall, when AT&T said it was splitting into four units: AT&T Wireless, AT&T Broadband, AT&T Business and AT&T Consumer [Adweek, Oct. 30]. A client representative who confirmed the search said: “The time is right for us to look at all aspects of our business. We think it’s natural to review everything, including advertising.”

One source said prior creative work by FCB, which showed shepherds and their sheep, “was so questionable” that some AT&T Wireless executives wondered what they had to do with wireless communications. “There is too much evidence that it wasn’t working,” the source said.

FCB claims the account is worth $150 million in billings.

AT&T Wireless is going to become a separate company before the year is out, with a separate tracking stock. It is expected to focus on mobile Internet business, instead of portable telephones.