CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- One of adworld's greatest fixtures, Anheuser-Busch Chief Creative Officer Bob Lachky, is leaving the No. 1 brewer at the end of the month after a two-decade beer run there.
One of the best-liked and most-respected marketing executives in not just beer but virtually all of consumer-product marketing, Mr. Lachky helped to create some of the most memorable and iconic ad campaigns of the past two decades, including "Wassup?!," the Budweiser frogs and "Real Men of Genius," the most-awarded radio campaign in history.
He also spearheaded the development of A-B's Super Bowl ads, which have dominated postgame polls for virtually his entire tenure. (This year, however, A-B's streak of 10 straight USA Today Ad Meter titles was snapped -- it finished second and third -- but it won a number of other postgame surveys, including those by AOL and Nielsen.)
News of his departure comes four months after A-B was officially acquired by Belgium-based InBev. The months since have been marked by several rounds of layoffs and other aggressive cost-cutting throughout the brewery, including its marketing department. But Mr. Lachky denied that changes at the brewery were behind his decision to leave, noting he had to be coaxed to remain at the brewery by A-B President Dave Peacock last year.
"I'm not retiring, but I've chosen to move on," he said. "I've had a great run at Anheuser-Busch."
Mr. Lachky's departure will not be welcome news at A-B's roster of creative agencies, which regarded him as their primary client and a key personal relationship. Consider that Mr. Lachky once worked at A-B's current lead agency, Omnicom Group's DDB, Chicago, reporting directly to Ron Bess, who today is North American chairman of Euro RSCG, another A-B roster shop that works on Michelob. At A-B, Mr. Lachky once counted among his direct reports Manny Flores and Alejandro Ruelas, who today run Austin, Texas-based LatinWorks, A-B's primary Hispanic agency.
"It's going to be different without him there," said DDB Worldwide Chief Creative Officer Bob Scarpelli. "I look at the work, the awards and how he helped to build those brands -- it's a remarkable record." Added Euro's Mr. Bess: "Bob will go down as one of the great ones in the business when it comes to maintaining advertising relationships with agencies."
Mr. Flores LatinWorks' CEO, credited Mr. Lachky with greenlighting 2006 and 2007 Super Bowl ads from the agency, which, in its role as a Hispanic shop, might not have gotten the same shot elsewhere. "Bob has a tremendous respect for creativity, period," he said, "regardless of where it comes from."
Mr. Peacock said that rather than appoint a new chief creative officer, A-B will use a more "decentralized" approach to creative development in the future, with marketing VP Keith Levy and various brand teams assuming many of his former responsibilities.
In light of the ownership change at the brewery, it's easy to view the departures of Mr. Lachky and Tony Ponturo -- the sports and media guru who left A-B late last year -- as a clear changing of the guard at A-B. But Messrs. Lachky and Peacock stressed that the new generation of leadership at the brewery largely consists of executives trained by the likes of the old guard. "Tony was my first boss here and Bob was my second boss," said Mr. Peacock. "In no way is this August [Busch IV]'s team vs. my team."
"If it wasn't for people like Mike Roarty and August Busch IV, I would never have been able to do what I was able to do here, and to pass the baton to my guys now," said Mr. Lachky.
He offered particularly effusive praise for Mr. Busch, with whom he worked closely during the 1990s on memorable ads featuring the Budweiser frogs, Clydesdales playing football and others. As a Bud Light brand manager, Mr. Lackhy helped produce the "I Love You, Man" campaign during the early 1990s, a period in which Bud Light surpassed Miller Lite as the top-selling light beer.
Mr. Lackhy was named VP-brand management in 1997, a post he held until 2005, when he was shifted out of the creative role and into a new, industry-development role. The new job focused on repairing the reputation of beer, which was at that time bleeding market share to wine and spirits. Mr. Lachky produced an online and broadcast campaign called "Here's to Beer," which featured the likes of Spike Lee and Michael Imperioli waxing nostalgic about people they'd like to share a brew with.
When Mr. Busch became CEO a year later, he quickly moved Mr. Lachky back into a creative role. Mr. Lachky called Mr. Busch "my angel," adding: "I was fired more times than [five-time New York Yankees manager] Billy Martin," Mr. Lachky recalled. "He was one of the best friends a creative could have."
Asked about his next move, Mr. Lachky, 55, said that he was looking at "other opportunities within the communications industry" and made it clear he wouldn't be on the sidelines long. "I'm not going to go to Aruba, I've got to start working," he said. But he made it clear that, whatever job he next landed at, it wouldn't be at any of A-B's rivals: "I'm a Bud man."