AOL to shops: Analyze this

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America Online has made the speedy selection of a new advertising agency among its top corporate priorities, according to a brief issued to agencies within the last two weeks.

According to the document sent to the agencies, short-listed shops will be expected to "engage in a brand analysis of AOL, including your perspective of brand perception in the market, product issues and prioritized competitive challenges."

Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide is one agency to have made the first round, as is sibling DDB Worldwide, while TBWA/Chiat Day has declined to pitch. Havas' Arnold Worldwide; Interpublic Group of Co.'s Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, Hill Holliday Connors Cosmopulos and Mullen; and Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi are also pitching. Pile & Co., Boston, is conducting the search. One indication that the review is expected to come to a speedy conclusion: Second-round finalists will be notified Jan. 31. AOL declined to comment on the RFP or search.

According to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR, AOL spent $127 million from January through October 2002 to promote its Internet service.

In the brief, AOL said that despite the fact it is the category leader, with more than 35 million member households, it realizes that "the marketplace is shifting." The process is expected to culminate in a short list of six agencies by late February or early March.

The brief goes on to say that AOL has already identified a strategy for the campaign, but still expects "smart, collaborative, strategic thinking," from its prospective agency partner.

The pitch guidelines request a Power Point presentation, with a back up CD, from agencies by today.

Just days after his arrival this month, Exec VP-Brand Marketing Leonard Short threw AOL into review, ousting Interpublic's Gotham, New York, which had worked for AOL for eight years.

While exec VP-advertising and brand management at Charles Schwab & Co., Mr. Short consolidated the brokerage's account at BBDO.

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