BELL ATLANTIC TRIMS REVIEW TO SEVEN SEMI-FINALISTS: MARCH DECISION DUE IN MEDIA CONSOLIDATION

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Bell Atlantic Corp. has selected seven semi-finalists for its $200 million media consolidation review.

Incumbents Arnold Communications, TN Media, TBWA Chiat/Day, Draft Worldwide and Zenith Media Services (pitching with Media Direct Partners) join BBDO Worldwide (pitching with sister shop SCP Direct) and McCann-Erickson Worldwide for the second round of presentations.

Those pitches are expected the week of Feb. 16, and another cut is expected before the final decision in March.

Cut were Starcom Media Services, a division of Leo Burnett Co., Chicago, and Creative Media, New York. Optimum Media, the media buying arm of DDB Needham Worldwide, New York, dropped out early in the process.

QUESTIONNAIRE FUROR

The review, being conducted by consultant Bedford Group, Atlanta, has been notable for two factors: a big emphasis on direct response marketing and the criticism Bedford has gotten from agencies upset about a questionnaire sent to some of the agencies' clients (AA, Feb. 2).

Agency executives said that the fact that up to 40% of Bell Atlantic's marketing spending will be earmarked for direct response is the reason Draft is a major contender, and the reason both Zenith and BBDO felt they had to partner with direct agencies in the pitch.

As is the case in other reviews lately, big accounts make strange bedfellows. Independent media buyer Zenith is hooking up with Media Direct Partners -- owned by Interpublic Group of Cos. -- to compete against Interpublic's McCann.

`CLIENTS ARE UPSET'

As for Bedford, "My big problem with it was that Bedford never told us they were going to send the references a questionnaire," said a media executive at one of the agencies in the review.

"My clients are very upset," said another media manager. "They don't have the time or interest in doing this. It's just another example of a consultant just willy-nilly accumulating data on us."

Rich O'Gorman, Bedford Group's media specialist, said: "It's a very important part of our process to do these reference tests."

A copy of the questionnaire sent to the references, obtained by Advertising Age, asked such questions as "Do you know of anything pending with this firm that should cause us concern?" and "What is the worst thing about this firm's media buying operations?"

Contributing: Laura Petrecca.

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