Awards $50 Million U.K. Account to Grey Worldwide

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NEW YORK ( -- Time Warner's America Online is beginning its review for its nearly $300 million U.S. media account.

AOL is preparing to send out request-for-proposal letters to a select group of media agencies as it finalizes agency selection criteria. The letters will go out by mid-November, an AOL spokeswoman said.

Mid-January decision
Agency semifinalists will be selected

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by Thanksgiving, with the first round of presentations slated for early December, after which finalists will be selected. A decision is expected by mid-January.

The interactive giant hired Pile & Co., Boston, to handle the review. Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Media, New York, currently handles media chores for AOL and will defend the account.

Doubling its ad spending
In conjunction with the agency review, AOL this week said it will more than double its U.S. ad spending in 2004 to nearly $300 million.

AOL is eager to eke more out of its media dollars and is in discussions with Hollywood talent agencies, product placement and promotional firms to help it make the brand relevant again. AOL has more than 25 million subscribers in the U.S., but many consumers have fled for cut-rate Internet services and phone and cable companies that are providing souped-up high-speed Web access.

U.K. account
Meanwhile, AOL awarded its $50 million U.K. creative account to Grey Global Group's Grey Worldwide, London, agency executives confirmed.

Grey has been asked to come up with a new, long-term brand positioning for AOL. A virtual character called Connie, who has been the brand's icon in the U.K. for the last five years, will be dropped. Television is expected to be the dominant medium for the new campaign, agency executives said. AOL did not return calls.

AOL's previous agency, independent London shop Mortimer Whittaker O'Sullivan, will retain some project work.

AOL put the U.K. account into play at the beginning of June. Grey pitched against the incumbent; Omnicom Group's TBWA London; and WCRS and Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper Partners, both owned by Havas, for the business.

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Emma Hall contributed to this report.

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