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[Auburn Hills, Mich.] Volkswagen of America awarded U.S. media-buying responsibilities to Grey Global Group's MediaCom, ending a review that pitted incumbent Havas' MPG against MediaCom. The agency also picks up media-buying duties for VW sibling Audi of America, which was previously handled by Havas' McKinney & Silver, Raleigh N.C. McKinney retains media planning for Audi. The win means MediaCom handles most of VW's business globally, valued at about $800 million in media spending. See QwikFIND aaq28z

Grey out of Sun review, cuts 20 staff in San Fran

[San Francisco] Grey, San Francisco, last week laid off 15% of its staff, or about 20 people, an executive familiar with the situation said. The cuts came after Sun Microsystems eliminated Grey, the incumbent, from a review for its estimated $10 million advertising account. Other finalists in the review were independents Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, Sausalito, Calif., and Godfrey Q, San Francisco; WPP Group's Cole & Weber/Red Cell, Seattle; and Interpublic Group of Co.'s Sedgwick Road, Seattle. "This is the tough part of our business," said Betsy Sperry, managing partner, Grey, San Francisco.

Wren makes $10 million profit on stock options

[New York] Omnicom Group President-CEO John Wren made a profit of $10 million exercising stock options Jan. 27, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. He then cashed out $3.5 million in shares, leaving him with Omnicom stock worth $31.8 million, or a 0.2% stake.

Google hands project to Strawberry Frog

[Mountain View, Calif.] Independent Strawberry Frog, New York, has been tapped by Google to handle a pair of upcoming assignments, the details of which are unclear. Executives familiar with the matter say the agency joins MDC Partners-backed Crispin, Porter & Bogusky, which last year created billboards aimed at recruiting engineers for the newly public company. Both of the agencies declined to comment, as did a Google representative.

Dish Network taps Publicis for account

[Englewood, Colo.] Echostar's Dish Network has selected Publicis Group's Publicis, Seattle, to handle its national creative for TV, print, radio, outdoor and direct marketing. Previously it assigned work on a project-by-project basis. It did not disclose which other agencies were considered. According to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR, Dish spent $98 million in media in 2003 and $57 million through October of 2004.

A&E, TNT bid `Sopranos' up to $2.1M per episode

[New York] As of press time, both A&E and TNT were vying for rerun rights to HBO's "The Sopranos," which is expected to net a record $2.1 million per episode. That amount is significantly higher than HBO's original asking price of $1.8 million and current record-holder "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," which went to NBC Universal's USA and Bravo networks last year for $1.92 million. Time Warner owns both HBO and TNT.

USA conducting review for branding assignment

[New York] USA Network, a unit of NBC Universal, is conducting a review for a major branding assignment that's a prelude to a new wave of programming set to appear in June. The cable network is hearing creative presentations from a slew of creative shops, including MDC Partners' Mono, Minneapolis; Modernista, Boston; and Strawberry Frog and Taxi, both in New York. The agencies either declined to comment or didn't return calls.

Sony to sponsor Denton's LifeHacker

[New York] Sony Electronics has become the first consumer electronics company to sponsor a blog. It is the launch advertiser of a new blog going live today by Gawker Media called LifeHacker. Content considers how to get the most out of your personal gadgetry in the droll style of the nine other Gawker titles. Sony will run leaderboards, medium rectangles and skyscrapers. Publisher Nick Denton revealed neither the timeframe nor the financial terms of the deal. According to an executive close to the situation, the Sony deal will run for three months at $25,000 a month. Also today Gawker is launching a travel blog, Gridskipper, sponsored by

McD's rushes out `balanced lifestyles' push

[Oak Brook, Ill.] Facing mounting pressure from regulatory groups and a revived obesity lawsuit, McDonald's Corp. appears to have sped up its plans to unveil a global marketing plan based on balanced lifestyles. CEO Jim Skinner told analysts in a quarterly conference call that McDonald's would unveil details on the effort in six weeks. He said it would involve the International Olympic Committee, comprehensive consumer outreach, and new advertising under the "I'm Lovin' It" umbrella.

Toyota rolls out latest Avalon effort

[Torrance, Calif.] Toyota Motor Sales USA's Toyota Division launches its third-generation Avalon in March monthlies and national TV Feb. 7. Although Avalon sales dropped by 28% to 36,460 units in 2004 vs. 2003, Toyota hopes the bigger, more powerful 2005 model will spike the car's annual sales closer to 80,000. Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, Los Angeles, handles.

FYI ...

Online dating service has tapped independent Hanft Unlimited for a national TV and print advertising assignment touting a new tagline. "Love is complicated. is simple." The print work breaks in early February, the TV work in March. ... New York Home, an upscale regional shelter title, will hit newsstands in late May courtesy of Detroit-based Hour Media. It will be edited by Jason Kontos.

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