S.F. Shops Court Virgin Mobile

The closure of Lowe Lintas & Partners’ office here has excited interest in the shop’s plum $40 million Virgin Mobile ad account, which is now in review.

Lowe won Virgin Mobile five months before closing its doors. The company, which is part of the multifaceted London-based Virgin empire, is still seeking a carrier for its wireless service.

The client confirmed last week that it is reviewing agencies. Sources said the company is accepting reels and credentials. No working list of participating shops was immediately available.

“We’re evaluating all options,” said Tom Williams, Virgin Mobile’s senior manager of marketing. He said there was no timetable for a final decision on ad plans.

West Coast shops that are part of the Interpublic Group of Cos., which owns New York-based Lowe, are expected to pitch the account.

“We’ve closed [Lowe in S.F.]. But there has been some discussion about keeping [Virgin] in the family,” an IPG source said.

IPG shops that are seen as likely contenders include The Martin Agency’s San Francisco outpost and Suissa Miller in Los Angeles. IPG’s GMO/Hill, Holliday is not expected to participate because its Verizon business in the Northeast would present a conflict.

Sources said the holding company is expected to pitch Virgin from the West Coast. “There’s no shortage of IPG agencies out there,” a source noted.

Numerous other large shops with track records in the category also have conflicts: TBWA\Chiat\Day, Ogilvy & Mather and Fallon are finalists in the AT&T pitch, while FCB is defending the account. McCann-Erickson and Publicis & Hal Riney both work with Sprint. Wieden + Kennedy and BBDO also have conflicts.

Outside of IPG, Grey’s San Francisco office seems a likely candidate. The shop is free of potential conflicts, and its president, Kieran Hannon, formerly worked on the Sprint account.