Progressive Direct Awards Creative Duties to Arnold

BOSTON Progressive Direct said it has selected Arnold for creative chores following a review. Estimated billings top $150 million. The Boston-based shop beat Havas siblings Euro RSCG in New York and McKinney in Durham, N.C., and Omnicom’s GSD&M in Austin, Texas, in the final round. The finalists emerged from a field of six that included Omnicom’s TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York and independent The Richards Group in Dallas. The incumbent, independent Doner in Southfield, Mich., resigned the business at the onset of the review. Progressive in Mayfield Village, Ohio, is the third-largest direct seller of auto insurance in the U.S., and has grown an average of 20 percent over the last three years to $4.2 billion. Roth Associates in New York managed the review.

BBDO, DDB, Merkley, PHD Sign Minority Diversity Pacts

WASHINGTON Four Omnicom agencies last week signed binding agreements with the New York City Human Rights Commission to increase the number of minorities in their management ranks, thus avoiding having their executives testifying before the HRC during Advertising Week in New York, Sept. 25-29. BBDO, DDB, Merkley + Partners and media firm PHD were the four remaining shops out of 16 subpoenaed by the commission in June. The others reached accords with the HRC earlier this month. Omnicom had forged a separate pact with the New York City Council, which included paying $2.5 million over five years to promote diversity programs. The agreements commit the shops to establishing diversity-hiring goals for minorities over a three-year period, which include advancing them to higher ranks.

WPP Agencies Form MEC Bravo For the Hispanic Market

NEW YORK WPP’s Mediaedge:cia and The Bravo Group last week said they would jointly create a Hispanic media shop called MEC Bravo. As part of the initiative, close to 20 Bravo media specialists will move from their current New York and Miami locations to MEC offices in those markets. MEC will contribute five staffers to the new agency, which will be headed by Gonzalo Del Fa as managing director. He reports to Michael Jones, CEO, MEC Latin America. (Del Fa previously had been MEC managing director in Argentina.) Bravo’s current media planning and buying capabilities will be combined with MEC to provide a broad range of offerings. Bravo buys about $150 million in media annually for clients like Cingular, Mazda, Payless and Pfizer. The new venture launches Oct. 1.

MSN’s Soapbox Enters Viral Video Arena

NEW YORK MSN is jumping on the user-generated content bandwagon with Soapbox on MSN Video, a new Web platform designed for users to upload video clips. Soapbox will be initially available by invitation only during a beta test period that extends through January or February 2007, according to MSN. Like YouTube and the user-generated video hubs managed by Yahoo and Google, Soapbox enables users to post videos as well as search 15 content channels. Visitors can also subscribe to video RSS feeds, post comments, share clips with friends and embed the Soapbox player onto their blogs or personal Web pages. Following the beta period, MSN said it would integrate the Soapbox platform throughout its network, including MSN Video, Windows Live Space and Windows Live Messenger. MSN is still determining how to make money on Soapbox, using the test phase to solicit user feedback on the site. An MSN rep said the company is “exploring several monetization options that complement the viewing experience in a non-intrusive manner and offer our brand partners the assurance that their message is being displayed next to the types of content they want.”

FCC to Investigate Fate Of Media Consolidation Studies

WASHINGTON Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin is launching an internal probe of what happened to two studies of media consolidation it kept from the public. The action was disclosed last week in a letter from Martin to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who recently revealed the two internal FCC studies. Boxer said a 2004 study that concluded local station ownership boosts the amount of local TV news had been “stifled,” and in a letter to Martin she said it appeared the FCC had “shelved” its 2003 study that found increasing concentration in radio ownership. She asked Martin “to examine whether it was then or is now the practice of the FCC to suppress facts that are contrary to a desired outcome.” The FCC voted in 2003 to loosen limits on media ownership. The issue is drawing attention in part because the FCC is again drafting new ownership rules following a court rejection of its earlier decision. Martin said in his letter he did not see either study, that he “too was concerned about what happened to these two draft reports” and asked the inspector general of the FCC to conduct an investigation.

GSD&M Goes ‘Freestyle’ For Norwegian Cruise Line

DALLAS Launching its first major brand advertising campaign in a decade, Norwegian Cruise Line last week presented work from Omnicom’s GSD&M built around the theme “Free-style Cruising.” The Austin, Texas, agency’s two 30-second television commercials and several 15-second spots will run on network and cable. Eight print spreads will appear in newspapers and more than 20 national consumer and trade magazines. Other elements include a new Web site, direct mail, onboard and outdoor advertising. NCL will also sponsor weather and traffic reports on New York-area radio stations. The client spent more than $30 million on ads last year, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus, and it plans to increase spending in 2006 and 2007, though officials would not give exact figures. Sources said measured media spending could top $100 million next year. The ads breaking Oct. 2 promote a less structured, more relaxed, resort-style experience than traditional cruising, the client said. Targeting non-conformists, the ads pitch NCL’s policy of no fixed dining times at up to 10 different restaurants, no formal dress codes, relaxed disembarkation and more choices of entertainment. Copy lines in the print ads include “Our dress code: wear something” and “Dinner will be served promptly at whatever o’clock.”

AOL Shifts Brand Work To Hill, Holliday in Boston

BOSTON AOL has chosen roster shop Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos here to craft its brand advertising following presentations from the IPG shop and Omnicom’s BBDO, sources said. AOL spent nearly $300 million in measured media last year and close to $140 million in the first half of 2006, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. Hill, Holliday will create national advertising campaigns in online and offline media to support the overall AOL brand and explain its shift from a dial-up access provider to an ad-supported portal, sources said. BBDO in New York, which had handled AOL’s overarching brand work, stays on the client’s roster for product-specific as-signments, sources said. BBDO’s most recent ads broke in January and portrayed AOL as a “high-speed” brand. The billings added by Hill, Holliday could not immediately be determined, but sources said the lion’s share of AOL’s ad spending would now support initiatives from that agency. Hill, Holliday had previously handled various AOL projects. This spring it fashioned ads promoting the launch of AOL’s In2TV service that streams classic Warner Bros. TV shows such as Growing Pains and Wonder Woman.