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[New York] Federated Department Stores' Macy's in coming weeks will be the latest in a line of major marketers to establish its central agency relationship with a media buying and planning agency rather than a creative shop. Similar shifts have been made by massive marketers like Procter & Gamble Co. and Coca-Cola Co. Six media firms are currently in the hunt for control of the estimated $1 billion budget currently handled in-house. The contenders are: Omincom Group's OMD, Aegis Group's Carat, Interpublic's Initiative, Havas' MPG, and Publicis Groupe's ZenithOptimedia and Starcom. Meanwhile, a slew of ad agencies are chasing a pair of creative projects. One is targeted at 16-to-21-year-old consumers; the other is a fall branding campaign. See AdAge.com QwikFIND aar29b

NBC sees signs of life on Thursday night

[New York] NBC's Thursday night comedy block kicked off last week with "Will & Grace," "Four Kings" and "My Name is Earl" notching ratings increases in their half-hour time periods at 8 p.m., 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., respectively. "The Office" retained its highest audience lead-in of the season but it wasn't enough to lift it above the time-period average. CBS won the night in total viewers and 18-to-49s and NBC took second for 18-to-49s. ABC's two-hour premiere of "Dancing with the Stars" lifted it to second place for total viewers.

Interpublic upgraded by Merrill Lynch analyst

[New York] Interpublic Group of Cos. shares were upgraded Jan. 6 from sell to neutral by Merrill Lynch analyst Lauren Rich Fine. The upgrade is a boon for the No. 3 holding company as it struggles with a variety of financial and operational problems. Interpublic next month is expected to update the timeframe for its turnaround following the disruption of its previous schedule last year by a six-month bookkeeping inquiry that resulted in the restatement of more than $500 million in earnings over a five-year period.

Fallon loses Shetty to Hill Holliday

[Boston] Interpublic's Hill Holliday has tapped Baba Shetty, managing director overseeing interactive at Fallon Worldwide, Minneapolis, as an exec VP. In a newly created role, he will oversee media planning and buying, interactive and consumer targeting. Media had been handled by Kristi Argylian, who is being promoted to agency general manager. Mr. Shetty, 40, becomes the latest in a line of Fallon execs to leave the agency. David Dabill, Fallon's chief operating officer-chief financial officer, left the agency last week to join New York start up Toy, founded by two vets of Fallon, New York. It was a bad week for Fallon, which also lost the Virgin Mobile business. See AdAge.com QwikFIND aar28l

New Orleans seeks Mardi Gras sponsors

[New Orleans] The city of New Orleans has hired Los Angeles-based Media Buys to secure corporate sponsorship for Mardi Gras next month, the first time the city has sought to offset the expenses of the carnival with marketing. Media Buys is seeking four companies willing to spend $2 million each to serve as an official presenting sponsor of Mardi Gras, to be held on Feb. 28. The majority of the funds collected from these sponsors will be directed to the city to be used for support services like police, fire, EMS and sanitation.

Pontiac Solstice rolls with Ludacris in spots

[Detroit] Pontiac's slick Solstice roadster will be backed by new ads featuring hip hopper Ludacris. The rapper's own tricked-out Solstice appears in his new "Two Miles An Hour" music video, which in turn is the basis for a :30 TV spot that broke over the weekend on MTV from General Motors Corp.'s urban-youth shop Vigilante, New York. Pontiac Marketing Director Mark-Hans Richer said the blitz includes outdoor and print and will expand to general-market TV.

AT&T `assessing' agency resources

[San Antonio] With its estimated $500 million branding campaign underway, AT&T has begun assessing its agency resources, including creative, media buying, direct marketing and Hispanic marketing. Wendy Clark, VP-advertising, said AT&T is limiting consideration to legacy SBC and AT&T shops. Those are, for SBC, Omnicom's GSD&M, Austin, Texas; independent Rodgers Townsend, St. Louis; Omnicom's Javelin Direct, Irving, Texas; and Dieste Harmel, Dallas. Legacy AT&T shops are WPP's Y&R, New York; sibling Mediaedge:cia; and Digitas. Bravo was AT&T's Hispanic agency but now works for Cingular Wireless. SBC spent $907 million in advertising in 2004 while AT&T Corp. spent $216 million, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Both companies, however, trimmed their spending considerably in 2005 pending approval of their merger. For the first nine months of 2005, SBC spent $196 million and AT&T $14 million.

NBC, Chevy team up to tout Olympics

[Detroit] NBC touts its Winter Olympics broadcasts tonight via a :60 spot on its "Las Vegas" series in tandem with General Motors' Chevrolet brand, longtime sponsor of the U.S. Ski Team. Chevy vehicles and Olympic hopefuls appear in the spot from NBC and Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich. A longer version arrives Jan. 13 on 10,000-plus screens via National CineMedia and will air through Feb. 9. A behind-the-scenes piece on the production of the longer spot will be featured in January on NBCOlympics.com, Chevy.com and the TiVo showcase. Separately, Chevrolet got three bidders by Jan. 6 for its auction of 10 VIP trips for two to the Games in Torino, Italy on eBay to raise money for the U.S. SKi team.

FYI...

A federal appeals court in New York rejected an appeal by Martha Stewart that sought to overturn her 2004 conviction on obstruction-of-justice charges. While Ms. Stewart has already completed her sentence, serving five months in prison and five months of home detention, the ruling means that she remains a convicted felon. ... The New York Times Company promoted Alyse Myers, VP-marketing services, to senior VP-chief marketing officer for The New York Times Media Group, a newly created position.

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