The move follows a creative shootout between Omnicom Group's BBDO, New York, and Interpublic Group of Cos.' Hill Holliday, both roster shops. Spokesmen for Hill Holliday and BBDO referred calls to AOL, which did not have any immediate comment.
Big coup for Hill Holliday
The win, which effectively gives Hill Holliday control of the account, is a big one for the agency, whose New York and Boston offices are said to have pitched the business. BBDO is expected to remain on the roster, though it's unclear what work will be left for it to do. Media is expected to remain at Interpublic's Initiative and Omnicom's OMD.
AOL, a unit of Time Warner, spent $422 million in measured media in 2005 and about $150 million over the first half of this year, according to TNS Media Intelligence. It's not certain, however, whether and how spending will change as AOL's business model shifts.
BBDO won a large chunk of AOL's business in 2003, following a closely watched review. Since then, AOL has also worked with agencies including independent Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., which resigned it in 2004, and Interpublic's Martin Agency, Richmond, Va., which hasn't produced work recently. BBDO created such memorable AOL ads as the spot showing Sharon Stone in bed with the "running man" logo and the "Want a Better Internet?" campaign.
Restore its former glory
An early Internet giant that embedded the phrase "You Got Mail" in pop culture, AOL has seen its fortunes fade as customers migrated out of dial-up services and into faster broadband subscriptions. It's now giving away its software platform -- including e-mail, search and its instant messaging program -- and has lowered its dial-up rates, hoping to make up for the subscriber losses by selling more ads. The company plans to layoff about a quarter of its workforce, or 5,000 people, as it gets away from the dial-up model and its intensive customer-service requirements.
Communicating that mix of paid and free services hasn't been easy, however, and AOL's customer service has been under scrutiny. A video of one customer's attempt to cancel the service -- and fighting with a recalcitrant rep who kept questioning his decision -- was a popular item in the blogosphere this summer.
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Gavin O'Malley contributed to this report.