Insurer shops $70 mil acc't, again

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Progressive Insurance, which currently uses the space alien E.T. in its advertising, is doing some phoning of its own these days. The auto insurer is shopping around its $70 million account.

Progressive will begin to meet with agencies at the end of this month. A company spokeswoman declined to name which agencies have been invited so far.

Incumbent Arnell Group, New York, which has had the account since August, isn't participating. Chairman Peter Arnell said his shop's job was to establish the Progressive brand, and the new assignment is outside his expertise.

"We're evolving our overall branding and advertising strategy," a company spokeswoman said. "We're specifically looking for a larger agency with [strong] direct response and co-op advertising programs."

The request for proposal said Progressive plans direct-response TV, direct mail, co-op, radio, print and outdoor ads.

The ad portion of the account is estimated at about $50 million; another $20 million is allotted for direct marketing and sports-related efforts.

Before naming Arnell, Progressive was at Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco, for four years. The marketer's relationship with Arnell ends in June; Progressive is expected to conclude its review then.

The spokeswoman said more requests for proposals will be sent out in the coming weeks, adding that agencies are welcome to contact Progressive on their own. Marketing Director David Pratt is said to be heading the search.

The company plans to continue using E.T., which it licenses from Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment. Progressive refers to E.T. as its "safety ambassador."

SUPER BOWL SPLASH

Progressive splashed onto the ad scene at this year's Super Bowl by sponsoring the halftime show and running ads featuring E.T. and two former astronauts.

In the request for proposal, Progressive said it would decide this month if it will continue with the halftime sponsorship for next year's Super Bowl. If the company decides to renew its NFL ties, it plans to run two 30-second spots next year.

Progressive is expected to assign a creative project to the agencies that make the first round of cuts.

Contributing: Laura Petrecca.

Copyright March 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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