Patron Launches Review for $50 Million Account

Incumbent Richards Group Not Expected to Participate

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Patron Spirits Co. has launched a fast-moving search for a new creative agency to handle its premium tequila brand's $40 million to $50 million ad account, according to people familiar with the situation.

The incumbent agency, Richards Group, Dallas, is not expected to participate in the review. The shop doesn't defend accounts that go into review unless they are periodically scheduled or government mandated. An agency spokeswoman referred calls to Patron; a request for comment to the marketer wasn't immediately returned.

The review seems to be moving at a clip. The Las Vegas-based marketer is in the process of compiling a shortlist of shops to pitch the account, and presentations are expected to take place next month, people familiar with the situation said.

The review is a bit curious as data published by the national Distilled Spirits Council earlier this month suggest Americans have been trading down to cheaper liquor brands during the recession in every category -- with the exception of top-shelf tequila brands.

Privately held Patron doesn't release sales information, but last week, its chief operating officer, John McDonnell, told MarketWatch that Patron was up 6% last year on a hike in its ad budget of 10% as "every other major spirits company cut their ads by 10%, 20%, 30%."

At the same time, people familiar with the review note that Patron -- the first tequila brand to enter the ultrapremium-spirit set -- might be having a tough time keeping market share as it faces competition from newer brands.

The current campaign from Richards focuses on making the bottle the hero of ads and avoids showing people. It carries the tagline "Simply Perfect," and the executions, which have been largely outdoor, print and online, have copy noting that the alcohol is made by hand using 100% blue agave plants.

Between January and November of 2009, Patron spent $40 million on domestic measured media, according to Kantar Media figures. The full-year figure when available will probably be slightly down from 2008; it spent about $52 million in 2008 on measured media. More than half of the total has been devoted in the last two years to marketing the Patron Silver brand.

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