EUROPEAN COKE TO PUBLICIS

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PARIS-In a move with more strategic significance than financial consequence, Coca-Cola Co. is moving management of its European Coke brand account from longtime agency McCann-Erickson Worldwide to Publicis here.

The budget offers Publicis more prestige than it does advertising work, say ad industry insiders familiar with the account. The main aspects of managing the account in Europe involve adapting global campaigns to national markets and interfacing with local Coca-Cola affiliates.

"Since these national accounts are decentralized, nobody really knows how much they are worth," said one knowledgeable European ad official. "All the real money is in the media buying."

Coca-Cola's European media buying is handled by McCann's Universal subsidiary.

Still, the switch is an incontestable blow to McCann and a major vote of confidence in Publicis. While it may not inherit Coca-Cola's estimated $150 million to $200 million media buying account, it can feel heartened by winning its second major Coca-Cola budget within a year.

Last year, Publicis broke into the stable of Coca-Cola agencies by winning the new global budgets for Caffeine-free Diet Coke and Caffeine-free Coke Light. Media reports indicate that based on the group's performance on those accounts, Publicis President Maurice Levy lobbied Coca-Cola for the Coke work-and got it.

The arrival of the account may pose conflict problems with Nestle's Perrier account, which Publicis won without competition in 1993. According to French ad officials, both Coca-Cola and Nestle view the two drinks as competitors in the same market segment.

"It's a tough choice," said the European official. "Coke will insist on dropping a conflicting account, and Nestle must not be very happy about seeing the arrival of Coke. But what to do? Coke is one of the world's most prestigious budgets, but Nestle has a multitude of accounts beyond its drinks. So do you forget about Coke or risk future Nestle business?"

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