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Information Resources Inc. announced Feb. 26 it retained Chicago investment banking firm William Blair & Co. to explore "strategic options," possibly including sale of the company in whole or in part, as well as mergers, capital infusions or strategic partnerships. Advertising Age reported Feb. 24 that IRI had retained Blair, and executives familiar with the situation believe a sale is IRI's goal. Chairman-CEO Joseph Durrett said IRI has worked with Blair "for several months" to assess its options, well before a February filing by California hedge fund Chap-Cap, holder of more than 5% of IRI shares, demanded IRI be sold or Mr. Durrett be fired. Mr. Durrett believes IRI's consumer panel and analytics businesses could be sold separately from the core scanner-data business. The profitable panel and analytic services would have more potential buyers than the scanner-data business, given their double-digit sales growth annually over the past three years, Mr. Durrett said. IRI has not set a deadline for finding a buyer or partner, he said, adding that he is not contemplating auctioning the company. He would not comment on whether IRI would consider offers from private-equity funds. QwikFIND aao47r

Mazda CEO ends three-year tenure

Charlie Hughes, president-CEO of Mazda North American Operations since fall 2000, resigned unexpectedly Feb. 27, as first reported on Before joining Mazda, he retired from Land Rover North America in June 1999 after serving as its only president since 1986. John Mendel, exec VP-sales, marketing, parts and service at Mazda, will step in as acting president, a Mazda spokesman said. Mr. Hughes, who joined Mazda when he was 55, did not return calls. His departure marks the latest in a string of management changes at the automaker controlled by Ford Motor Co. Mr. Hughes reported directly to Lewis Booth, who became president of Mazda Motor Corp. in Japan last July. Mr. Booth succeeded Mark Fields, who was promoted within Ford after just 18 months and was Mazda's third president in three years. An executive close to the matter said Mr. Hughes favored keeping to the "Zoom. Zoom" ad tag and positioning from Doner, Southfield, Mich., but his new boss believed that positioning was too limited for the brand. The Mazda spokesman said any such matter would be between the two men. "Mazda has every intention of continuing with `Zoom. Zoom' and the direction of the company. Every car we build fits that tagline." QwikFIND aao47k

Hampel/Stefanides execs join Tucker

The founders of Hampel/Stefanides, New York, have joined with the independent Tucker Partnership after their agency was shuttered by parent Envoy Communications Group, Toronto. Larry Hampel and Dean Stefanides will be senior partners and creative directors of the agency, renamed Tucker, Hampel, Stefanides & Partners. Hampel Stefanides staff will also join the shop to open new-media and account-planning departments. Hampel/Stefanides was acquired in 1998 by Envoy Communications Group, Toronto. The holding company closed Hampel/Stefanides Feb. 7 after shopping the firm for more than a year. Envoy suffered due to the weak ad market in the U.S. and Canada, aggravated by the weak Canadian dollar.

Univision clears hurdle for HBC

Univision Communications' deal to acquire Spanish-language radio company Hispanic Broadcasting Corp. cleared a regulatory hurdle when the U.S. Department of Justice agreed to clear the deal. To satisfy anti-trust regulators, Univision will have to convert its share of TV station owner Entravision Communications Corp. into non-voting stock and reduce its 27% stake in Entravision to 15% in three years and to 10% in six years. Univision announced the deal in June to buy HBC for $3.5 billion in stock. In September, the companies received a request for more information from regulators in the antitrust review, which caused a delay. The deal is now expected to close around March 14. QwikFIND aao47q


WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson Co., Chicago, on Feb. 25 laid off 18 executives, or 10% of its head count of roughly 180. The move followed a shakeup last month in the agency's key Kraft Foods account in which Erin Clark, senior partner-group management director, took over the Kraft cheese and enhancers unit, replacing Jean McLaren, and Toby Barlow from JWT's New York office moved to Chicago as interim group creative director, replacing Matt Canzano, who led creative for the brand team. Many of the jobs cut were in the production department, where radio, TV and print advertising is produced. QwikFIND aao47e ...Vivendi Universal's Universal Studios Orlando theme park is taking the offensive with an edgier marketing campaign, "A Vacation from the Ordinary," which features members of the rock group Kiss-Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons - as well as popular TV chef Emeril Lagasse. Targeting an adult audience-a tactic divergent from Walt Disney Co.'s kids- and family-targeted theme parks-a 60-second TV spot, set to air this week from Universal's agency, davidandgoliath, Los Angeles, Calif, attacks Disney with the closing line: "Fairy tales and pixie dust not quite your thing? Log on to for a vacation package."

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