AT&T AGENCY BBDO JOINS $80 MIL CHASE FOR GTE: TELCO'S ATTENTION ALSO ON O&M AMID WORD OF INTERNAL DISSENT

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BBDO Worldwide emerged last week as a contender for GTE Corp.'s $80 million account.

Nearly all the agencies being considered by GTE since it started a review in September have-or until recently had-other telecommunications clients. New York-based BBDO is no exception: It handles AT&T Corp.'s $10 million 1-800-CALL-ATT account.

The incumbent is Focus GTE, a Dallas unit of Omnicom Group's DDB Needham Worldwide.

Two executives close to GTE said the company recently has focused in on BBDO and Ogilvy & Mather, New York, a Nynex Corp. agency.

BBDO'S AT&T DILEMMA

Senior executives at BBDO, also an Omnicom unit, have been wrestling with how to respond should GTE offer the agency the account; BBDO resigned or turned away other business to land AT&T in 1995. However, BBDO has been disappointed that the $1 billion advertiser hasn't given the agency more business since its '96 Olympics campaign ended.

Others involved in the account review said O&M has the inside track.

Other agencies considered by GTE, which has not requested formal pitches, include Wells Rich Greene BDDP, New York, and Campbell Mithun Esty, Minneapolis. Temerlin McClain, Dallas, already a GTE agency, also was involved early on.

Executives at several agencies said a decision has been slowed by a struggle for control of the review between senior marketing executives and GTE board member Edwin Artzt, former CEO of Procter & Gamble Co.

ARTZT BACKS O&M

Mr. Artzt is believed to be responsible for putting O&M on the short list. He has been close to O&M Chairman Charlotte Beers since his days at P&G; she was chairman-CEO of P&G roster shop Euro RSCG Tatham, Chicago, before moving to O&M.

O&M has called its involvement in the review "speculation."

Glen Gilbert, who left BBDO last summer to join GTE as VP-advertising, insisted he has been in control of the review from the beginning.

"It is not uncommon for board members to be approached for advice on a decision of this scale," he said. "And it's certainly not the first time an agency review has been delayed or postponed .*.*. An internal committee is currently in deliberation over agency finalists that would be most worthy for the job. We're not disagreeing; we're deliberating."

DECISION BY MID-FEBRUARY

Mr. Gilbert said a decision is now expected by mid-February.

Some observers believe the fluctuations in the agency review reflect the ongoing merger negotiations in the telecommunications industry. GTE is rumored to be looking for a partner such as BellSouth Corp. or WorldCom, or, alternatively, positioning itself as an acquisition target of a large long-distance provider.

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