Spirits company Brown-Forman has begun a media agency review.
"Brown-Forman is leading a review of its global media, to be completed by late 2014," said a Brown-Forman spokeswoman. "Brown-Forman's long-time global media agency, Universal McCann, will participate in the review."
External View Consulting Group, which is run by Russel Wohlwerth, is consulting on the review.
The Louisville, KY-based company tapped Interpublic's UM more than 10 years ago to support buying and planning. At the time, UM said Sasha Savic, who was then senior VP and director of multinational accounts, would lead the Brown-Forman business. Mr. Savic left UM many years ago and currently serves as CEO of WPP's MediaCom in the U.S.
UM didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Paul Varga, who is now chairman and CEO at Brown-Forman, hired the agency when he was in the chief marketer role. A handful of executives have served as CMO since Mr. Varga was promoted. Chief Brands Officer Lawson Whiting is now responsible for marketing
Brown-Forman, which owns Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, Southern Comfort, Finlandia and Korbel, among other brands, spent $52 million on measured media in the U.S. in 2013, according to Kantar Media. Among the brands on which it spent the most are Jack Daniels (about $20 million) and Southern Comfort (about $10 million). The company also spent a few million on Woodford Reserve, which moved its creative account to Publicis Groupe's Fallon in Minneapolis last October.
For UM, it's not a massive account. But it's big enough to make a dent and serve as one more distraction at an agency that's also in the midst of a management transition. President Sarah Personette recently left to go back to Facebook, and Mediabrands' Jacki Kelley left the group for a chief operating role at Bloomberg. Kasha Cacy succeeded Ms. Personette.
The shop last summer was able to retain Nationwide, as well as win the Hershey business. It also won Heinz earlier this year. But it didn't prevail in the more recent Microsoft pitch, despite Microsoft's appointment of a handful of IPG shops. And J&J moved its massive U.S. media buying account to OMD from Interpublic's J3, a J&J-dedicated unit of UM, earlier this year.
Brown-Forman is the sixth-largest spirits company in the U.S., controlling 5.5% market share as of 2013, according to Euromonitor International. Earlier this week financial analyst ISI Group downgraded the company from a "buy" to a "neutral" rating. The firm cited several factors, including stepped-up competition from Pernod Ricard's Jameson, which ISI reported was "taking direct aim" at Brown-Forman's Jack Daniel's. Still, ISI stated that Jack, which is the largest whiskey brand in the U.S., "has the strongest brand equity of any largest U.S. spirits brand and a significant international growth runway ahead."
Contributing: E.J. Schultz