AOL invites five to pitch for $25 million French account

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PARIS--Internet giant America Online France is asking five agencies to pitch for its $25 million French advertising account, which has been handled by Havas Advertising-owned Euro RSCG BETC, Paris, since 1998.

The agencies invited to pitch are Havas Advertising-owned Enjoy Scher Lafarge, DDB Worldwide, Grey Worldwide, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide and local independent Jean & Montmarin.

AOL France is conducting the agency review as part of a radical overhaul of its advertising strategy here. Although it is a strong second on the French ISP chart, with more than 600,000 paying subscribers, AOL is facing increasing competition from local upstarts and the rapid growth in the use of so-called "free ISPs," which rely on advertising revenue and charge no access fee.

The company has also had a difficult time catching up to France Telecom's Wanadoo ISP, which has more than twice as many local subscribers, and which continues growing at rates far faster than those of AOL France.

AOL France also faces the prospect of a future marketplacebattle against its current principal shareholder, Vivendi, the media and industrial conglomerate that recently announced it is looking to sell its 55% stake in AOL France.

Vivendi intends to concentrate on its own multi-access por-tal site, Vizzavi, a joint venture with the U.K.'s Vodaphone AirTouch, and a general portal site, likely to begin offering free Internet connections in the near future.

Copyright July 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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