GREY WINS BELLSOUTH ACCOUNT

Billings Estimated at $150 Million

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- BellSouth Corp. has selected Grey Global Group's Grey Worldwide, New York, as its new agency of record for an estimated $150 million account, a BellSouth spokesman confirmed.

Omnicom Group's Merkley Newman Harty, New York, the incumbent; Havas Advertising's Arnold Worldwide, Boston; and Richards Group, Dallas, were finalists in a protracted review that began early this fall. Wanamaker Associates, Atlanta, handled the review. BellSouth informed finalists of the decision today.

BellSouth said that WestWayne, Atlanta, will continue handling its Yellow Pages account and other projects; the agency pulled out of the larger review Oct. 17.

Grey will staff the account from New York and Atlanta. The agency did not confirm its win. People close to the matter said Grey might combine resources with Atlanta-based 360, an interactive shop. A BellSouth executive could not elaborate on Grey's plans.

Closely watched review
The closely watched review, which began with a list of more than 20 agencies, was considered a plumb account during a time of severe new-business drought.

The $80 billion telcommunications company sought agencies to handle a wide swath of marketing communications including strategic brand planning, creative development, general market and ethnic creative duties. It also sought assistance with digital, database and direct response marketing.

Media buying and planning was not part of the review, though BellSouth asked contenders to submit briefs on their media capabilities. Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Media, Atlanta and New York, will continue to handle BellSouth's media buying and planning.

Boost 'Baby Bell' image
BellSouth is looking to spiff up its image as a full-service telcommunications company and a leading provider of communications services to consumers and businesses. Alan Blount, assistant vice president of advertising, said the company is eager to embrace the challenge and transform itself from a sleepy Southern Baby Bell.

"We were looking at strategy first and foremost and a truly integrated approach to managing the business," Mr. Blount said. "Creative was a piece of it. ... We did give [the finalists] an assignment, but this was not a creative shootout."

BellSouth serves nine Southeastern states with 25 million access lines and offers voice, data and broadband services. The company owns 40% of Cingular Wireless; Omnicom's BBDO Worldwide, New York and Atlanta, handles Cingular advertising.  

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