UPDATE: On Oct. 22, Anheuser-Buesch InBev said that it had chosen MediaCom to lead its media planning and buying.
Anheuser-Busch InBev is poised to hire WPP Group's MediaCom as its new media planning and buying agency in the U.S., accoding to people familiar with the matter, a move that would end a lengthy review and result in major changes to the way the brewer buys media. The account has been handled in the U.S. by Publicis Groupe's Starcom, part of Starcom MediaVest Group.
The pending change is one of the first big agency moves made under Jorn Socquet, who became the brewer's U.S. VP-marketing in January after running marketing in Canada since 2010.
Finalists in the pitch also included Publicis Groupe's Starcom MediaVest Group, said people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Socquet said in a statement that no agency has yet been retained. "In fact, we have not yet awarded our U.S. media planning and buying business to an agency partner, and remain in talks with two finalists -- WPP's Mediacom and Publicis Groupe's Spark," he said.
Starcom MediaVest Group's smallest agency, Spark, has lead the charge in the review for the Publicis media agency network, although sibling Starcom had handled media planning and research duties since late 2011. At the time, InBev decided to outsource some of the media duties long handled by its in-house Busch Media Group. And over the course of the latest review the brewer decided to end to its in-house buying operation in an effort to create efficiencies and recast its buying strategy.
A-B InBev spent $1.56 billion on total advertising, and $572.3 million on measured media in the U.S. in 2013, according to the Ad Age DataCenter.
After a six-month review, the brewer has separately consolidated its European media business covering nine key markets with its U.K. shop
U.K.-based consultancy ID Comms supported the review process in a handful of markets.
Adding to its efficiency play, the brewer sought to gain lengthy, 120-day payment terms for agency fees in the latest review, according to multiple people familiar with the brewer. A-B InBev was said to also be seeking extended payment terms for media buys. MediaCom negotiated its own terms, according to one person familiar with the review, declining to elaborate.
Other executives involved in the agency decision include Lucas Herscovici, the brewer's former VP of U.S. digital marketing, who was elevated earlier this year to a newly created role called VP-consumer connections, which includes oversight of media, as well as digital and sports marketing.
For SMG the blow is softened by Starcom's retention of its Samsung business this month. But it's the fourth massive account loss for Publicis Groupe's media agency operations in two years, following GM, Microsoft and Disney. Despite the loss of GM, SMG revenue in 2013 grew 16.4% to $1.3 billion, seeing double-digit growth across both its domestic and non-U.S. operations. MediaVest won the massive Honda business last year, and Spark has won a handful of accounts since SMG revamped the smallest of its shops in 2012.
Contributing: Emma Hall
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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said A-B InBev had already retained MediaCom to handle its media planning and buying. The review has not officially concluded. This article has been updated to include comments by the brewer saying that talks with both finalists continue.