Grey Closes in on $50 Mil. Aetna Ad Account

Grey has edged past McKinney & Silver in the competition for Aetna’s $40-50 million marketing business.

New York-based Grey got the nod from the Hartford, Conn.-based insurers review committee, but must now make a final presentation in the weeks ahead to Aetna’s new CEO, John Rowe, source said.

Alex Kaufman, Aetna’s head of advertising and brand management, declined comment, as did executives at both Grey and McKinney

Ironically, McKinney, which had shared Aetna project work with Waylon Ad in St. Louis, may have been the victim of the management structure created by its recent sale to Havas [Adweek, April 9].

Havas, Paris, may have paid as much as $20-25 million to acquire Raleigh, N.C.-based McKinney from troubled parent marchFirst shortly before the latter filed for protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy laws.

McKinney, led by CEO Don Maurer, reports to Havas through Boston-based Arnold.

The McKinney-Aetna relationship was viewed with some apprehension by senior managers at Arnold due to a potential conflict with rival insurance firm and Arnold client The Hartford.

Despite the geographic distance between Arnold and McKinney and the latter’s relative autonomy within the Havas reporting structure, there was some feeling at Arnold that The Hartford would object to an expanded relationship for Aetna and McKinney, sources said. Arnold chairman and CEO Ed Eskandarian said possible conflicts were “not on our radar screen” during his negotiations to acquire McKinney for Havas.

Tensions between The Hartford and Arnold have risen of late as Arnold has pursued added business from Fidelity Investments, which represents another potential conflict. Furthermore, there was no desire at Arnold to provoke The Hartford further through Aetna, sources said. Fidelity spends more than $120 million annually on ads, mainly through Interpublic Group of Cos. sister agencies Gotham, New York, and Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston.