EURO TOUCH TAKES ROOT

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The latest wrinkle at major standalone media-buying shops is the emergence of elite teams charged with providing services ranging from brainstorming for marketing campaigns to overseeing sports marketing, events and promotions.

At least three new examples are derived directly from Europe, where media planning has generally been a more integrated discipline, say its practitioners, though each shop claims a unique approach.

WPP Group's MindShare has assigned 20-25 people to "Wow Factory," a concept introduced last fall based on a similarly named operation in its London office; the unit is directed by Connie Garrido, a MindShare senior partner and the former head of the shop's erstwhile "non-traditional marketing" group.

"We've always done strategic planning, but with Wow Factory we're taking it a step further and bringing the best of what we offer in everything from out-of-home marketing and guerrilla marketing to all our clients," says Ms. Garrido.

Examples of Wow Factory's activities include coordinating non-traditional media efforts among the five creative WPP shops that work on marketing for MindShare client American Express Co., she says.

Grey Global Group's MediaCom brought its U.K.-based "Real World Communications" media-planning discipline to New York "over the last year," says MediaCom Co-CEO Dene Callas, to formalize its "evolving process" of analyzing needs, developing research, then providing strategic media ideas to clients.

The number of personnel deployed for RWC are in the "dozens," and most were drawn from within. Elyse Hoelzer, a MediaCom exec VP, added the director of communications planning title when she was named to head RWC in July. Examples of work the unit has contributed so far include product placement in various TV efforts for Subway restaurants, says Ms. Callas.

Omnicom Group's OMD imported the idea of "Ignition" from various European offices, but the agency refuses to disclose how many people are assigned to the unit.

"People don't walk around with an `Ignition' badge on, but they're like our Marine Corps of people who can be called in to brainstorm on problems ranging from sales distribution to packaging issues," says Colin Gottlieb, CEO of OMD Europe.

Starcom MediaVest Group's GM Planworks insists it was the first such separately branded media-planning unit in the U.S., when it was formed in 2000 to handle all of General Motors Corp.'s media planning. The unit now includes 275 people in its Chicago and Detroit offices.

GM Planworks has been so successful that Starcom, part of Publicis Groupe, is now adding more standalone media-planning concepts. The latest is Tapestry, which has been designated to handle multicultural marketing on a broader scale and use more diversified tools than those of Starcom's former Hispanic media-planning department, which has been absorbed into the new unit.

"This is mainly about consistency," Mr. Gottlieb says. "A lot of this is what a good advertising agency would have done 20-25 years ago ... we're making sure we're delivering the best ideas throughout our entire network."

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