Account Action: D'Arcy in bid to save BK

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Burger King Corp. executives, including Chief Global Marketing Officer Chris Clouser, met with executives from D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York, last week in what insiders called a last ditch pitch by the agency to avoid being exiled from the fast feeder's roster.

D'Arcy handles regional marketing and promotion, including some media buying and planning worth an estimated $50 million, for the No. 2 burger chain. The Bcom3 Group agency has been on Diageo's Burger King roster since 1989 when it was named general market agency. It was shifted to regional work in 1994, when the former Ammirati Puris Lintas was named as the restaurant chain's national agency. Several executives close to the marketer said they expect D'Arcy to remain on the account only another 90 days or less, and describe the relationship over the last several months as "shaky."

"No agencies were terminated," said a Burger King spokeswoman when asked about the meeting.

"We meet with our clients on a regular basis. We won't comment on the nature of the meeting," said a D'Arcy spokeswoman.

personnel moves

One reason for the talk surrounding the agency's prospects on the account is personnel moves on the account team. Ken Quaas, managing director of D'Arcy's Chicago office and who led the roughly 40-person field team, left the agency within the last month. Executives close to the agency said other Burger King account staffers left as well. Mr. Quaas declined to comment. The D'Arcy spokeswoman said his leaving was a mutual decision, and only one other person was let go in April.

"When you're in trouble the first thing you do is manage profitability," said one person with ties to Burger King, adding, "They don't have a whole lot of friends in the Clouser camp. If I were doing the math, I'd say D'Arcy's days are numbered."

Bcom3's MediaVest, New York, handles an estimated $200 million in national broadcast and syndicated TV media buying for Burger King. Interpublic Group of Cos. last month purchased Media First International, which handles about $50 million in Burger King cable and print buying as well as auditing spot purchases and overall consultation on all media activities. Rich Kostyra, president-CEO, is chairman of the Burger King media committee and is a close friend of Mr. Clouser.

Several executives close to Burger King believe Media First is likely to pry away local spot buying from D'Arcy, though the D'Arcy spokeswoman said its relationship with Burger King is business as usual. Media First declined to comment. A MediaVest spokeswoman said she can't comment on speculation, and added its relationship was also "business as usual." Interpublic has several other shops on Burger King's roster, including DraftWorldwide, Chicago, for promotion; Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis, for kids' marketing; and Deutsch, Los Angeles, for projects.

"What do you need D'Arcy or MediaVest for when you have Media First in place?" asked an insider who predicted that most or all of the field and media business will eventually be handled by Media First, since it now has access to Interpublic's media resources. "It's not a matter of if, but when," said another executive close to the marketer.

next step

Should Burger King make a move, it is unclear how the creative portion of the business will be handled in the future since the fast feeder has typically relied on most of its roster shops for regional creative. Most observers speculate some assignments will land at Deutsch, which was added to the roster in May to handle projects. Its first work is expected to debut in the fall for a national launch of a new value menu, and observers believe the success of that effort will determine whether the agency will then be able to take a bite out of other roster shop assignments. Deutsch referred calls to the client.

contributing: richard linnett, lisa sanders

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