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[london] In a rare move outside its roster of agencies, General Motors Corp. has picked a small London agency for the hotly contested $60 million relaunch of GM's Astra car in Europe and is expected to name Bates Worldwide to introduce the Buick in China.

After presentations in English and Chinese from McCann-Erickson Worldwide, D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, and Bates in Shanghai, GM is believed to be about to give the nod to Bates, which handles no GM business anywhere else in the world. A decision is expected this month.

In Europe, GM made the surprise move of choosing Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe, London, after dissatisfaction with the creative work for the Astra campaign offered by Lowe, GM's agency in the U.K. and Germany, and McCann, which handles the rest of Europe.

"We had a very long period of creative development with McCann and Lowe," said Patrick Dunster, Zurich-based director of advertising at General Motors Europe. "They were aware this product means everything to GM in Europe. We were not totally satisfied" with the creative work.


Mr. Dunster said GM approached Rainey Kelly "primarily because of M.T. Rainey's reputation as an excellent strategic thinker and her young agency's reputation for strong creative work for clients like Virgin."

Ms. Rainey started her ideas-oriented, fee-based agency in 1993 and works for Allied Domecq Spirits & Wines and MTV Networks as well as Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Cola and Virgin Vodka.

GM tested creative submitted by the three shops plus Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide's Frankfurt office. GM also talked to HHCL and M&C Saatchi, London, and a local German agency, but the did not survive the first round of talks.

Although GM Europe confirmed the Rainey Kelly appointment, Saatchi's work is still being tested by GM in Germany, its largest market. Agency executives said Germany is frequently in conflict with GM's international headquarters in Zurich.

"Germany has one or two issues still to be resolved, but the Rainey Kelly work is still the strongest," Mr. Dunster said.

The Astra decision is a bitter blow for Interpublic Group of Cos., which over the last year has set up a joint McCann/Lowe strategic unit in Zurich called the Brand Communication Group to manage European assignments.

Garry Neel, IPG's Zurich-based senior VP and general manager of the group, said IPG will buy media and handle dealers and other work for Astra.

"A launch TV commercial is only the tip of the iceberg," he said. "We continue to be the strategic partner for the Astra brand team."

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