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Agency job cutting worsened in October

[washington] U.S. ad agencies cut 1,600 jobs in October, marking the biggest monthly decline this year, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Agency employment dropped 0.9% from September, to 179,900, the lowest level since January 1999. Year-over-year staffing declines eased to -4.7% in October, but that was due to easier comparisons with the depressed post-9/11 job market in October 2001. Agencies have cut 11.3% of their staffs since employment peaked in August 2000. The October layoffs came amid some signs of an improving ad market for next year.

Interpublic debt moves closer to junk status

[new york] Standard & Poor's on Dec. 6 cut Interpublic Group of Cos.' long-term credit rating to BBB-, one notch above junk, and left it on CreditWatch, leaving the door open to another downgrade. S&P cited 2003 liquidity concerns, adding, "It is still uncertain whether financial issues at the corporate level could affect the pace and profitability of new business wins." Separately, Interpublic filed a revised 2001 annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission discussing its $181.3 million earnings restatement; an informal query from the SEC; 15 shareholder lawsuits; and an Internal Revenue Service audit. Interpublic had reported these issues in previous filings; it reiterated that it's "in the process of terminating certain employees ... [and] implementing other personnel changes" relating to the restatement. It last week named Senior VP-Financial Administration Thomas Dowling as chief risk officer, overseeing internal audits.

DM review opens for $100 mil AARP account

[fort washington, pa.] AARP and UnitedHealth Group's UnitedHealthcare division are reviewing direct marketing shops for the $100 million AARP Supplemental Health Insurance program. Incumbent Marsh Affinity Group will participate.

Senior exec exits GMS unit of AOL Time Warner

[new york] Julie Kantrowitz, chief operating officer of AOL Time Warner's Global Marketing Solutions group, and point person in putting together cross-divisional ad and commerce deals, has left the company, AOL Time Warner said. Ms. Kantrowitz could not be reached.

Darden to test idea for Seasons 52 chain

[orlando, fla.] Darden Restaurants (Red Lobster, Olive Garden) will unveil a new concept fresh grill and wine bar format under the Seasons 52 name with a 250-seat test restaurant to open in Orlando in February. It will feature "seasonally inspired" menus that will change weekly, Darden said. Marketing for the test restaurant, a spokeswoman said, will likely center on public relations. Spending was not disclosed.

E-Trade reported in agency talks

[menlo park, calif.] E-Trade has contacted agencies, executives familiar with the situation said. Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, handles the account. E-Trade and Goodby did not return calls. Shops contacted by E-Trade include Havas' Black Rocket Euro RSCG, San Francisco, and Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch LA, Los Angeles. Black Rocket declined to participate.

FYI . . .

Capital One, Falls Church, Va., a significant client at soon to be shuttered D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York, has hired consultancy Bob Wolf Partners/TPG, Los Angeles, to assist in reviewing capabilities at other Publicis Groupe agencies. A creative review may result, according to executives familiar with the situation. Capital One did not return calls. ... Former Dodge Division General Manager James Julow, 49, retired from DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group Dec. 1, a spokesman said. He had been reassigned from Dodge to serve as Chrysler group VP-motorsports and specialty vehicles last June. ... Yum! Brands named Steve Davis, a senior Pizza Hut executive, to be president-chief operating officer of Long John Silver's restaurants. Mr. Davis is senior VP-concept development at Yum!'s Pizza Hut unit. ... Circuit City Stores signed as official sponsor of the trophy given to the winner of the Jan. 3 college football Bowl Championship Series national championship game. Terms were not disclosed. Sears, Roebuck & Co. dropped the sponsorship this year. ... Former Time Inc. Parenting Group President John Hartig,45, has joined Hearst Magazines as senior executive for magazine and business development to oversee launches, acquisitions and potential brand extensions. ... General Mills will launch Berry Burst Cheerios later this month in strawberry and triple berry varieties to answer Kellogg Co.'s successful Special K Red Berries and Fruit Harvest. Spending was not disclosed but extensive TV advertising breaks Feb. 10 as well as outdoor and in-store. Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, Minneapolis, handles. ... Dial Corp. moved advertising for Purex laundry detergent and Renuzit air freshener, with estimated billings of $5 million to $10 million, to Omnicom's GSD&M, Austin, from Cramer-Krasselt, Chicago, without a review. GSD&M handles Dial's flagship personal wash account.

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