UNILEVER'S $1.2 BILLION MEDIA-BUYING ACCOUNT IN REVIEW

Assignment Covers Europe; Incumbents Are MindShare, Initiative

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- Unilever is reviewing its $1.2 billion advertising media-buying account across Europe and has asked two non-roster media specialist agencies to pitch for the business.

Probable contenders
Unilever would not confirm which agencies will pitch against the incumbents on the account -- WPP Group's MindShare and Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Media -- but the two contenders are thought to be Omnicom Group's OMD Europe and Aegis Group's Carat.

A Unilever spokesman said, "The review does not signal dissatisfaction or criticism of the current agencies but rather a further drive by Unilever to maintain its leading edge position in how it manages media. The review will commence in June with a decision expected in the autumn."

Initiative handles the business in 11 European markets, while MindShare handles Germany and Italy. Worldwide, Unilever's billings are split almost equally between the two networks.

'Project 40'
The European review is being overseen by Alan Rutherford, Unilever's global media director, and is known internally as Project 40 because its aim is to save 40 million euros annually (about $48 million).

Unilever's first quarter 2004 financial results were disappointing, with trading in France, Germany and the Netherlands declared to be particularly tough. Sales of its top 400 brands rose just 1.3% and pre-tax profits fell by 8%.

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