Hotlines: Late-Breaking Industry News

$90 Mil. Toys R Us to Visit 5 Semifinalists This Week

NEW YORK Executives from Toys R Us will visit five shops this week en route to picking finalists to pitch its creative account, sources said. Semifinalists are: IPG’s McCann Erickson here and Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos in Boston; Publicis’ Leo Burnett in Chicago; independent The Richards Group in Dallas; and Omnicom’s DDB in Chicago. Based on the visits, the Wayne, N.J.-based client will select three or four finalists, said sources. The agencies either declined comment or could not be reached. Select Resources International declined to comment. The incumbent, WPP’s Young & Rubicam in New York, is not defending. The toy retailer last year spent about $90 million in measured media, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. Revenue is estimated at $2 million.

Final Pitches for $150 Mil. Volvo In Sweden Today and Tomorrow

NEW YORK Volvo execs will hear final pitches today and tomorrow from four agencies vying for its estimated $150 million global creative account, sources said. Traveling to Goteborg, Sweden, are Havas’ Arnold (partnering with independent Nitro), its sibling and incumbent Euro RSCG, Omnicom-backed 180, and Publicis’ Fallon. A decision is due by early April. Late last month, Omnicom’s Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, which was to pitch in tandem with 180, withdrew from the process to pursue Hyundai. 180 is pitching the business on its own.

Sprint Contenders Present Creative Concepts This Week

NEW YORK The three finalists in Sprint Nextel’s creative review—WPP’s Young & Rubicam and Ogilvy & Mather, both in New York, and Omnicom’s Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco—on Thursday and Friday will present to client executives at the company’s Kansas City headquarters, sources said. Each shop will get three hours to pitch. Sprint marketing executives will then select two shops to meet with CEO Gary Forsee and his team next week, said sources. Sprint, which last year spent about $1.2 billion in measured media, plans to select an agency by the end of March. This week’s meetings follow creative work sessions in Kansas City last week, said sources. The winner will replace Omnicom’s TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York (consumer-directed ads) and Publicis’ Publicis & Hal Riney (b-to-b). Revenue on the account is estimated at $40 million.

Rent-A-Center’s $60 Mil. Media Account Awarded to OMD

NEW YORK Rent-A-Center, based in Plano, Texas, has selected Omnicom’s OMD to handle media planning and buying duties, the client confirmed. The incumbent was Aegis’ Carat. The client spent about $60 million on ads in 2006, up 25 percent from the previous year, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. The account will be handled by OMD’s Chicago office and focus on TV, direct mail, radio and Hispanic marketing. RAC CMO Ann Davids said, “OMD exhibited a solid understanding of our business and our core target audience. OMD’s disciplined approach to planning resulted in a strong strategy and an innovative media plan.”

Aegis’ Revenue Hits $1.9 Bil., Up 15% Over 2005

NEW YORK Riding a strong performance by its Synovate research division, Aegis Group posted 2006 global revenue of $1.9 billion, up almost 15 percent over the previous 12 months, with organic growth of nearly 8 percent. Operating profit rose 15 percent to $240 million; gross profit margin improved from 9.3 percent to 10.4 percent. Separately, the London-based firm said CFO Jeremy Hicks resigned after relocating to the U.S. Alicja Lesniak replaces Hicks. She joins Aegis from Omnicom’s BBDO in London. She spent seven years as CFO of BBDO’s European, Middle Eastern and African operations.

IPG’s Lowe, Scholz Strike Joint Venture in Germany

NEW YORK IPG’s Lowe and Comarco Communications Group, the German holding company for Scholz & Friends, among other shops, have formed a joint venture in Hamburg known as Lowe Deutschland. The venture strengthens Lowe’s capabilities in Germany and gives Comarco access to Lowe resources in other markets, such as the U.K and Poland, said Peter Minnium, Lowe’s worldwide managing director. Comarco is believed to have majority control of the venture, which will be overseen by a board of Lowe and Comarco executives. Lowe Deutschland’s CEO and creative chief are expected to be named this week. The venture’s first client is Unilever, for which it will handle a half-dozen food and home and personal care brands, Minnium said.

ICrossing Buys ‘Marketing Dashboard’ Firm

NEW YORK Search-focused agency iCrossing continued its recent buying spree with the acquisition of a small analytics company that helps marketers gauge the performance of their campaigns. It paid an undisclosed sum to buy Sharp Analytics, a 15-person firm in Salt Lake City that sells technology that allows clients to see the results of their online and offline marketing plans. Called SharpView, the product acts like a marketing dashboard, taking data feeds from several different sources to measure the effectiveness of campaigns in search, Web display, TV, radio, newspapers and other media. The dashboard is customized for each customer’s marketing goals.