Global media buying shop Carat, whose Los Angeles office was last year successful in shooting for the state of California’s anti-smoking business, is now shooting at it!

Carat has also trained its sights on LA creative agency Ground Zero which it partnered in the winning bid for the five-year, $125 million account.

At issue is the media planning and buying business for California’s anti-smoking campaign which, says Carat, state officials allowed Ground Zero to usurp after gaining the account in August 2000.

According to Carat, GZ needed a media partner during the pitch as its own buying credentials failed to meet the state’s minimum criteria. It duly presented along with a media plan created by Carat against twenty other agencies and triumphed.

But following its success, contends the aggrieved media buyer, GZ reneged on the agreement that Carat would handle the media buying business – a decision that California’s Department of Health Services failed to overrule.

Complains John Barnes, managing director of Carat's LA office: “We've tried to work with the DHS to resolve this situation but they have been unwilling to address it. We should have gotten the business. Our information and credentials helped win [it].”

Carat, a unit of London-headquartered Aegis Group, also argues that California may now be paying over the odds for its media purchases, arguing that GZ cannot match Carat's $150m a year local ad-buying muscle – a point among the several made in a five page letter sent by the group’s attorney to state governor Gray Davis and executives of the DHS.

James P Mayer, executive director of the state's Commission on Government Organization and Economy, also received a copy of the letter which, he said, the commission will discuss at a meeting Thursday.

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