AB-InBev Looks for U.S. Shop to Aid Media Planning

Brewer Reaches Out Beyond Longtime In-house Unit, Busch Media Group

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Anheuser-Busch InBev is once again looking to make changes to its agency roster. This time, it's searching for a U.S. media shop to handle research and planning in tandem with the company's in-house Busch Media Group, which will continue to lead domestic media buying and planning efforts.

Paul Chibe

Paul Chibe, who joined A-B InBev as U.S. VP-marketing in June, told Ad Age the brewer is currently evaluating "less than a dozen [agencies]." (Which, Ad Age notes, could mean it's looking at nearly every media shop.)

"We're looking at complementing our planning and research capabilities," Mr. Chibe said. "We have a very strong internal organization. No personnel in our organization is going to be affected by this, other than having additional capabilities be brought to bear."

He further explained: "We see Busch Media Group as a strategic advantage. We are complementing that strategic advantage through partnerships or a partnership with a media agency. "We can learn a lot from them and they can learn a lot from us. So it would be a win-win scenario for whatever partner we end up with."

The move follows the departure of the company's VP of media buying and sports marketing, Mark Wright, who left this summer for a role at AT&T.

The company has not yet replaced Mr. Wright, who also played a role in the deal between PepsiCo and A-B InBev for a joint-purchasing agreement to save money on media deals. Six months in, Ad Age reported that the duo evaluated some $1 billion in spending in that could translate to potential savings, but the attempts faced resistance by networks and publishers. PepsiCo works with Omnicom's OMD.

Mr. Chibe said the brewer was looking at candidates to replace Mr. Wright and "we are very close to getting that finalized."

A-B InBev, the largest brewer in the states and globally, spent $1.36 billion on advertising in the U.S. in 2010, ranking it as the nation's 22nd biggest spender, according to the Ad Age Data Center. That the company is now seeking outside help is a significant change to its media strategy, since Busch Media group has handled media buying and planning in the U.S. since the early 1990s, and has been the subject of speculation since InBev's acquisition of A-B in 2008.

Under Mr. Chibe's leadership, the company is looking at officially expanding its support network. The beverage giant is also in the midst of a creative branding review for Bud Light in the U.S., Ad Age reported last month.

Although Mr. Chibe indicated that the brewer wants some fresh thinking, he emphasized that it wants to keep Busch Media together because it didn't want to give up the unit's "internal, deep-bench comptentency in our philosophy in how we go to market," noting that beer is a complex category because of factors such as differing state alcohol laws. The brewer is looking for outside help because it wants "someone who's exposed to other categories, other innovatve thinking, new technology, new tools," he said.

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