BellSouth Eyes Four Finalists

The finalists that emerged last week in BellSouth’s review—Arnold, Grey, The Richards Group and Merkley Newman Harty & Partners—will have to deliver more than superlative cre ative and media planning expertise to win the $120 million account.

The Atlanta company, irked by a communications breakdown with New York roster shop Merk ley, is placing an unusually heavy emphasis on account service, sources said. “BellSouth feels they are a big plum in this lean year,” one source said. “And [that] they should get all the attention they deserve.”

Merkley’s handling of the August departure of partner Steve Harty, who oversaw the BellSouth account, was a factor in the decision to review, sources said. Though generally satisfied with the shop’s “Connect and create something” campaign, BellSouth was apparently displeased that it was not informed of Harty’s departure and other executive-level decisions that would impact the agency-client relationship.

“[BellSouth] had great concerns with what happened in that situation,” said search consultant Ken Bowes of Wan a maker Associates, the Atlanta-based firm overseeing Bell South’s review. BellSouth executives would not discuss the impact of Harty’s departure; Merkley officials declined comment.

BellSouth announced the layoff of 3,000 employees last week, though revenue rose 8 percent to $22 billion for the first nine months of 2001. Of late, ad spending has declined in favor of direct-marketing initiatives. Those capabilities, along with big-brand and category expertise, are critical pitch criteria, sources said.

BellSouth, the No. 3 regional telco behind Verizon and SBC, is continuing to expand and position itself as a national, even global force (it offers services in 44 countries). The company has explored an acquisition by, or affiliation with, AT&T.

Finalists will be briefed this week on creative projects, due in December. A decision is expected by year’s end.

Grey, New York, is pitching through its darkGrey division, where executives Dave Tutin and Rob King ston have considerable category experience. Arnold’s major wins in 2001 (Fidelity Invest ments, Citizens Bank) have come without pitches. Richards, Dallas, has won some midsized accounts but failed to gain victories in national pitches. Merkley recently reached the finals for Mohegan Sun and Stop & Shop, but fell short. —with Andrew McMains and Alicia Griswold