BARNES & NOBLE SEEKS NEW AGENCY ONLINE SKILLS TO BE CRUCIAL IN WINNING $35 MIL ACC'T

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Barnes & Noble is looking for a new agency on its $35 million account, the bulk of which is slated for its online book-selling business.

The agency search comes a little more than a month after Weiss, Whitten, Stagliano, New York, launched a multimedia campaign. TV spots are scheduled to end this month, but print and radio ads from the shop will continue until fall.

Weiss didn't return calls about the review.

A Barnes & Noble spokeswoman said she believes

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the agency will not participate. The spokeswoman declined to elaborate on details behind the split.

Media buying for Barnes & Noble is handled by VSM Media, New York; that is not part of the review.

Eight to 10 undisclosed agencies are being considered for the business. The spokeswoman said two finalists will be chosen by the end of July, with a decision made by mid-August.

FALL CAMPAIGN PLANNED

The book chain wants to have a new campaign ready to air by fall.

Barnes & Noble, the nation's No. 1 book retailer, is still No. 2 in online selling behind Amazon.com. When barnesandnoble.com was launched in May 1997, company officials told investment analysts they expected to be the leading online bookseller within a year.

In the face of aggressive marketing via Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco, by Amazon.com, however, barnesandnoble.com is struggling to gain that position.

Other competitors include the recently launched Borders.com, Cendant Corp.'s Books.com and a yet-to-be-launched site from publisher Bertelsmann.

Last year, barnesandnoble.com spent $121,000 on print-only advertising; through March, it spent only $8,000 and all of that on radio, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Spending through March does not include the recently launched effort.

Amazon.com spent $3.2 million in 1997 and already spent $3 million through March, according to CMR.

DOLLARS BUILD TRAFFIC

"I think what happened is [that] we're pretty new to the online business, so admittedly we didn't put a lot of money into advertising or marketing," said the Barnes & Noble spokeswoman.

"By all metrics of traffic and revenue, there is definitely a direct correlation between ad dollars Amazon.com spent and the traffic they're getting," said Marc Johnson, an analyst with Jupiter Communications. "Barnes & Noble, trying to piggyback on store ads, obviously hasn't driven the traffic they wanted."

Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo

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