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With Anne Becker and Michael Malone

Promax: Chabin's Departure Doesn't Add Up

Industry watchers were left scratching their heads last week over the abrupt departure of Promax/BDA chief Jim Chabin.

The international television-promotions organization named ad guru Lee Hunt as interim president/CEO and said it would retain an outside auditor to look at its books.

Promax took in $9 million in revenue last year but lost $200,000, not an unusual shortfall, we're told. Chabin, who typically shakes the trees at year's end to make up the difference and raise funds for the group's annual spring confab in New York, was quietly put on leave in December and unable to close such deals.

Still, Promax's own accountants didn't sound any alarms. So what gives?

Mike Benson, ABC's marketing chief and chairman of Promax, may simply want a new face, we're told. And even though international contributions typically account for 20% of the budget for the New York conference, Benson may be rankled by Chabin's globetrotting—200 days last year, often in exotic locales.

But Chabin stands by his record. Since returning to Promax in 2003 after a previous stint, the group has more than doubled its revenues.

The board is still due to hear Chabin's proposal on a contract to manage Promax's events.

Napkin Activism

The arrival of MTV's on-campus network, mtvU, at Bryn Mawr last month sparked a minor—and remarkably civil—protest at the prestigious Pennsylvania women's college.

After the network began playing on a new MTV-installed plasma flat-screen in a popular campus dining hall, several complaints appeared on the hall's “napkin note” comment board.

“Having a TV (not to mention MTV ads) disrupts my dining,” read one note. “Please don't cloud my otherwise pleasant dining experience with bad music, videos or even the news.”

“We should be able to decide if and when we want a TV in our dining hall,” said another.

Although MTV stipulates that the set cannot be turned off (only the volume can be adjusted), the complaints apparently succeeded in shutting it down temporarily.

But Dave Chase, associate director of dining services, says mtvU is there to stay and support for the network's programming and social-action campaigns has been high at Bryn Mawr.

“Obviously, the reason why we invited mtvU is, we thought it would be a service to the students,” he says. “Some people are not always the most receptive to any kind of change.”

An mtvU spokesman characterizes the outcry as a “vocal minority,” noting that mtvU—which has a presence on some 750 campuses—“across the board, has been embraced by college students nationwide.”

Indeed, some at Bryn Mawr posted notes in favor of the new TV.

One, however, offered an alternative: “We want an open bar instead of TV.”

Ah, higher education.

Turner Strikes Again

Apparently, Turner Broad-casting was undeterred by its disastrous foray into guerilla marketing last week, when several objets d'art promoting the Cartoon Network program Aqua Teen Hunger Force were mistaken for terrorist devices and shut down much of Boston. (See Robins Report, p. 6)

The cable programmer was back on the street the very next day with another publicity stunt.

Last Thursday, Turner Classic Movies kicked off its “31 Days of Oscar” campaign by deploying doppelgangers of Oscar-winners Jack Nicholson and Elizabeth Taylor on the streets of Manhattan.

(B&C's Anne Becker managed to snap a cellphone pic of faux-Jack walking a red carpet on Park Ave., a block from B&C headquarters.)

So, did Turner think twice about tapping street-level marketers after the Boston fiasco?

Not really, shrugged a Turner spokeswoman. “It was Liz Taylor and Jack Nicholson on the red carpet, handing out popcorn,” she said—hardly cause for alarm.

True enough. But considering New York City's recent ban on trans fats, those packets of microwave popcorn look like a clear violation.