Hotlines 2: Late-Breaking Industry News

Telecom Begins $2.3 Bil. Review To Consolidate Media Business

NEW YORK Phone giant AT&T is conducting a review to consolidate U.S. media planning and buying for its landline and wireless services at one roster shop, the client confirmed last week. The company spent $2.3 billion in U.S. measured media in 2006, according to TNS Media Intelligence. The incumbents are Omnicom’s GSD&M (which last week changed its name to GSD&M’s Idea City), which handles all media planning and buying (including digital) for the AT&T landline service; IPG’s Initiative, which has media chores for the nine-state Southern region, formerly known as Bell South, which AT&T acquired late last year; and WPP’s Mediaedge:cia, which does planning and buying for AT&T Wireless (formerly known as Cingular). Print media chores on AT&T Wireless are with Omnicom’s OMD and digital duties are handled by Publicis’ Digitas. A client rep said the review was triggered by the Bell South acquisition and the desire to “maximize efficiencies under a single-agency model.” Select Resources International, Santa Monica, Calif., is conducting the review. The RFP will be issued in “the coming weeks,” the rep said, adding that non-roster shops will not be considered. “We feel that we have a world-class group of agencies and we are pleased with their work,” said the rep.

$110 Mil. Chili’s Hands Account To Hill, Holliday After Review

BOSTON Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos has become lead agency on Chili’s advertising account following a review. The client spent $110 million on U.S. ads last year, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. The Boston-based IPG agency adds creative and media chores for the client, which split with Omnicom’s GSD&M’s Idea City in April. Other contenders were not disclosed. Management changes at the restaurant chain along with a prolonged same-store sales slump prompted the review.

Merkley + Partners CMO Departs After Just 8 Months

NEW YORK Omnicom’s Merkley + Partners is searching for a new chief marketing officer to succeed Morgan Shorey, who left last week after eight months at the New York shop. Both Merkley CEO Alex Gellert and Shorey said the agency and CMO weren’t a good fit. Shorey is launching a consultancy called Tall Tree Business Development that will help agencies become more proactive in new business development. She will be based in Richmond, Va., but keep an office in New York. Merkley’s search has just begun and Gellert hopes to fill the post by year’s end. In the meantime, other executives will assume the agency’s new business duties. Separately, the shop has added four new creative assignments from Fererro USA, a client since 2004. Billings on the new business—interactive duties on Tic Tac; ad duties on two new flavors of Tic Tac; ad duties on two new flavors of Tic Tac Bold; and ad duties on Rondnoir, a new line of dark chocolate that will hit stores this fall—are estimated at $15-20 million.

$650 Mil. Visa Invites Holding Companies To Bid for Media

NEW YORK Visa has confirmed launching a review to consolidate its global media planning and buying chores at a single shop or holding company. The client said four holding companies have been invited to pitch: Omnicom, WPP, Publicis and Aegis. Omnicom’s OMD handles Visa in the U.S., Asia-Pacific, China and India, while WPP’s Mediaedge:cia handles the client’s European media and sponsorship chores. Publicis’ Starcom works for Visa in Canada and most Latin-American markets. Aegis is not on the client’s roster. Visa’s annual global media spending is estimated at $650 million, per sources; Visa spent $440 million in 2006 U.S. measured media, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. The client has hired EMM Group, a marketing management firm in London, to guide the review. Visa said it expects the review to conclude by year’s end.

Cramer-Krasselt Wins Creative On $35 Mil. Bissell Vacuums

CHICAGO Bissell has chosen Cramer-Krasselt for creative chores on its estimated $35 million ad account following a review, the agency confirmed last week. C-K, an independent shop based in Chicago, succeeds IPG’s Campbell-Ewald in Warren, Mich., on the vacuum maker’s account, which it held for seven years. C-K said it would handle Bissell in its Milwaukee office, which represents several home products clients, including World Kitchen brands Corelle, Pyrex and Corningware. Campbell and Bissell split in June following the client’s decision to put its account in play. Other review contenders were not disclosed. Campbell’s recent work for the client was tagged, “We mean clean.”

Fitch Survey: Papers Perform Worse Than Expected in 2007

CHICAGO In its latest broad survey of the industry, issued last week, Fitch Ratings said newspapers are performing even worse than it expected at the beginning of the year. Fitch began the year with a negative outlook on the industry, arguing that weakness in newspapers’ high-margin classifieds would bring soft revenue and put pressure on profits. Among the specific companies the study cites: Gannett Co., where USA Today ad pages fell 17 percent compared to last year, and real estate classifieds at its community papers plunged 20 percent; Tribune Co., where help-wanted classified tumbled 19 percent, and real estate shrank by 24 percent; and The McClatchy Co., where real estate collapsed by 26 percent, and automotive plunged 20 percent.

MTV Introduces Digital Features To 2007 Video Music Awards

NEW YORK MTV is introducing a bevy of digital features to orchestrate a deeper level of access and interactivity for viewers of this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. In a network first, MTV will air a live simulcast of the Sept. 9 broadcast through mobile partners Sprint TV—which has a sponsorship deal with the program—as well as Verizon Wireless and AT&T. Meanwhile, MTV On Demand will offer instant updates on the awards show. Online components include the creation of a virtual world based around the show as well as an initiative dubbed “The Viewer’s Choice.” The latter will use the votes of online users to determine which favorite moments and performances will be featured in later broadcasts set for Sept. 11, Sept. 13 and Sept. 15.

Hill Departs Lowe After 1 Year; GMC Loss Results in Layoffs

NEW YORK Lowe North America CEO Nancy Hill is leaving the agency slightly more than a year after she joined, sources said. Hill, who did not return calls for comment, joined Lowe in June 2006 and became a partner to chairman and chief creative officer Mark Wnek in New York. Calls to agency executives, including Wnek and Lowe worldwide CEO Stephen Gatfield, were returned by a representative, who declined to comment. But sources said Hill would leave within the next three weeks and has yet to figure out her next move. Hill’s departure comes as IPG’s Lowe plans to lay off 60 to 70 employees due to the loss of national creative duties on General Motors’ GMC brand. Revenue generated by the GMC account, which is shifting to Publicis’ Leo Burnett, will dry up as of Oct. 1, when the handoff to Burnett is complete. Sources said the agency is not likely to fill the CEO slot, given its current scale and because it already has a chairman (Wnek) and a president (Sal Taibi), both of whom are expected to absorb Hill’s duties.