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JOHANNESBURG -- Unilever has put its $40 million media business in South Africa, the country's largest account, into Initiative Nota Bene, a joint venture between Initiative Media and Nota Bene.

Initiative Media South Africa is 80% held by Initiative Media Worldwide, an Interpublic Group of Cos. media agency. Nota Bene is a media planning and strategy agency recently acquired by Tempus Group of London.

The decision was made after a shootout against Unilever's other major buying agency, WPP Group's MindShare. The component parts of MindShare were assembled in South Africa only recently when the media departments of Ogilvy & Mather Rightford and J. Walter Thompson Co. were merged with Optimum Media, a media-only agency also owned by O&M Rightford.

Prior to this appointment, Initiative Media's billings were about $55 million, of which more than 60% was derived from Unilever. The pitch represented a make-or-break situation for the agency, which almost certainly would have had to close down had it lost. MindShare is now the biggest media agency in the country, with billings of about $170 million.

Up to now, Unilever's media strategy has been handled by its four brand agencies -- O&M Rightford, JWT, Lowe Lintas Bull Calvert Pace and HerdBuoys McCann-Erickson -- but now strategy and buying will be consolidated in the hands of Initiative Media.

"We have introduced a way of looking at media which combines media strategy and implementation," said Unilever's head of consumer understanding and media, Alan Watson. "This allows for greater consistencies and efficiency in media planning." -- Tony Koenderman

Copyright May 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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