Starcom Wins AB InBev Media Planning in U.S.

Move to Outside Shop Marks Another Big Change Under New Marketer Paul Chibe

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Anheuser-Busch InBev has picked Publicis Groupe 's Starcom USA to handle U.S. media planning and research duties after a review that included six agencies, the brewer told Ad Age .

Starcom will work in tandem with AB InBev's in-house Busch Media Group, which will oversee longer-term strategic initiatives, as well as media buying. The new arrangement marks a significant change in the brewer's media strategy, since Busch Media Group has handled media alone in the U.S. since the early 1990s.

Paul Chibe

Starcom "distinguished themselves with their planning and research capabilities," said Paul Chibe, Anheuser-Busch InBev's U.S. VP-Marketing. "Their investment in media-planning tools was outstanding. We thought they were very forward-thinking."

Starcom will be charged with daily tasks like making sure its media plans are up to date and aligned with strategic brand goals, while handling budget allocations across various media. Busch Media will "provide strategic direction on all of those plans," the brewer said.

For Starcom, the new arrangement means it is now paired with the biggest beer advertiser in the nation. The brewer spent $1.36 billion on advertising in the U.S. in 2010, ranking it as the nation's 22nd biggest spender across all categories, according to the Ad Age Data Center.

Said Lisa Donohue, the agency's CEO, in a statement. "Our team is excited to apply our unique experience and planning approach to Anheuser-Busch's iconic brands."

The assignment comes as the brewer makes a series of big changes under Mr. Chibe, who took over marketing in the summer. In August, AB InBev launched a creative branding review for Bud Light, setting into motion one of the most closely watched reviews of the year. The brewer has cast a wide net, considering a lengthy list of agencies as it seeks new ideas to reinvigorate the brand, which like most light beers has lost ground during the economic downturn, while facing new competition from spirits and craft beers.

Asked where they are in the process, Mr. Chibe said: "When we make a move it's going to be a move to the better, not just to make a move to hit a timeline. Things are on track. We're very pleased where we are headed with the review."

He stressed that AB InBev is reviewing Super Bowl work on a separate track, dismissing rumors that the lengthy review has forced the brewer to alter its plans for the big game. The Bud Light review "was always on a separate track because we wanted to have a very disciplined process," he said.

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