AGENCIES LOCKED IN HIGH-TECH MUSICAL CHAIRS 'WINTEL' CHILL FACTOR: GIANTS JOIN RUSH OF AD CHANGES IN PC INDUSTRY

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The PC world is ruled by "Wintel." So it's a remarkable event when Windows and Intel switch agencies within the same month. But that's only the beginning of the technology ad agency shuffle of 1999.

While tech accounts often shift when companies get in trouble, the latest action is unusual for the number of blue-chip, red-hot names making a move.

Microsoft Corp., one half of the Wintel bloc, is doing a closed review for an agency to handle U.S. advertising for Windows software, business sure to be worth tens of millions of dollars when Windows 2000 arrives next year. Intel Corp., the other half, moved its estimated $25 million business-to-business work at the beginning of the month to Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, the New York shop that last year picked up the consumer portion of the chip account.

Dell Computer Corp., the hottest PC maker on the planet, is looking for a new product agency after Goldberg Moser O'Neill, San Francisco, resigned the $70 million to $90 million account.

EMC Corp., a giant in the booming field of computer storage, went hunting after splitting this month with Mullen, Wenham, Mass., on its estimated $10 million to $15 million account. NEC Technologies this month split with Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston, on its estimated $10 million account.

And a trio of business software accounts is on the move: Oracle Corp. is reviewing its $42 million business after parting with Think New Ideas, West Hollywood, Calif.; Siebel Systems is reviewing its estimated $20 million account, now at Dazai, San Francisco; PeopleSoft last month moved its $15 million account to Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners/West from Saatchi & Saatchi, both San Francisco.

PRESSURE FOR REVENUE GROWTH

What gives? There is no single reason. But the biggest factor may simply be the tumult of the market.

Though overall tech product sales are booming, intense price competition-especially in PCs-has put suppliers under intense pressure to maintain revenue growth, and margins and stock prices. The consumer PC market is looking more like the U.S. TV set market of the 1970s: many big brands doing huge volume with huge losses; profitless prosperity.

In this unforgiving market, it's little surprise advertisers are quick to change in search of results now.

"The half life of normal [tech/agency] relationships is probably going to change," said Patrick Tickle, director of corporate marketing at SGI-one company that isn't in review.

"Long-term relationship" may no longer really apply in technology, where the life cycle of an agency relationship can move at Internet speed. Dell's 11-year marriage to Goldberg was the longest standing relationship between an agency and major computer marketer.

Microsoft and EMC last reviewed five years ago; Oracle lived with Think New Ideas for four years before putting the $42 million account in review. Intel, curiously, moved weeks after it launched its biggest business-to-business campaign for a product, Pentium III, crucial to maintaining profits.

Microsoft, in contrast, is reviewing now for next year's critical launch of Windows 2000, an operating system for business computers.

Following a reorganization, Microsoft this month pulled Windows from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., and began a closed review with a "small number" of agencies, said Jon Reingold, VP-corporate marketing. The review includes roster shop Anderson & Lembke, San Francisco, which will team up with parent McCann-Erickson Worldwide to pitch the business, Mr. Reingold said.

The Anderson/McCann team, he added, "is definitely a leading candidate."

"We're going to find ourselves a solution," said Rob Schoeben, director of integrated marketing communications for the Business & Enterprise Division. "We are reviewing our options."

MORE CHANGE AHEAD

More change is probably ahead in tech-market assignments. Notably, some agencies with strong reputations in technology advertising suddenly are available.

Goldberg-whose resume includes Apple, Dell and Intel as well as current client Cisco Systems-received calls from other computer companies in the days after it resigned Dell (AA, April 12).

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