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As Citibank unceremoniously consolidated upwards of $500 million in billings at Young & Rubicam, one executive from a Citibank agency called it "bad news."

He didn't mean bad just for Citibank agencies of record J. Walter Thompson Co., Lowe & Partners/SMS and Foote, Cone & Belding; he meant it was rotten for the entire ad industry.

Don't mistake this as whining from a poor loser. Something is definitely amiss. Citibank's action crystalized a treacherous trend where agency reviews are held on less than level playing fields. That was evident when Ogilvy & Mather, never part of the "official" review, captured GTE Corp. In Apple Computer's review, TBWA Chiat/Day surfaced only when Steve Jobs took over at Apple. The net result was the same: Agencies spent time, money and ideas on a review they never had a prayer of winning.

Now enter Citibank, and a review dating back to last year, when three incumbents were asked to pitch for three different products. Not only was Y&R not on the radar screen-some claim Citibank denied Y&R's involvement as recently as two months ago-but those pitching the business didn't know the review's true scope. Moreover, the incumbents had to present creative; not so for Y&R, which got by with only a capabilities presentation.

Citibank defenders say the marketer was fed up after months of failing to see the desired type of work from the incumbents. "It was our business and nobody else's," said Citibank Senior VP-Global Marketing Brian Ruder. But that is specious: No agency can deliver on cue when it receives false signals. The incumbents needed to be told Y&R was in the picture, and what it was being asked to do.

It's often said that agency/client relationships no longer are built on the golf course or over dinner. Would that they were-at least then there's some public indication of what's going on. But relationships are still important. Y&R, from the top down, is said by insiders to have wooed Citibank for 18 months before getting the nod.

Now President-CEO Richard Beattie of Mazda North American Operations is promising an open review for its $240 million ad business with no special favors for O&M. For the good of all, including advertisers, let's hope he's telling it straight.

Whether a positive indicator of the state of advertising creativity or a negative statement on programming quality-it's most likely a combination of both-there's little question that commercials are among the most entertaining features on TV today.

Moreover, advertising remains essentially the

sole revenue stream for broadcast networks. So we were a bit surprised to learn the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in New York was opposed to the awarding of Emmys for TV commercials. In fact, it's battling its Los Angeles sibling (and "Emmy" co-owner), the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which favors letting advertisers in on the Emmy fun. An arbitrator's decision is due no later than Aug. 25.

The irony in this tiff over TV advertising is that the New York-based National Academy oversees daytime programming, including such lowbrow fare as soap operas and talk shows.

The main dispute between the academies boils down to how each defines "programming." However they define it, we'd still rather spend time with the

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