Burger King sets up shops for shoot-out

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Interpublic Group of Cos. siblings Deutsch and Campbell-Mithun are prepping for a shot at Burger King Corp.'s $350 million general market account.

Burger King agencies, including current general market shops Amoeba, Bromley Group, Uniworld and MediaFirst, have paraded into the chain's Miami headquarters in the past few weeks to present their credentials and capabilities-and defend their places on the roster, according to executives close to the situation. They said both field-marketing agency Deutsch and kids' marketing shop Campbell-Mithun have been invited back for another round as Burger King CEO Brad Blum, newly installed after the chain's buyout with Texas Pacific Group, pursues an agency consolidation.

Observers don't count out Grey Global Group's Grey Worldwide, New York, which handles Darden Restaurants' Olive Garden, where Mr. Blum was marketing chief and later president. But spokesmen for both Grey and Mr. Blum denied any meetings have taken place.

Mr. Blum is "setting out to meet with all the agencies and he's had productive meetings with them," said a Burger King spokesman. "He's asked some to do more work and come back with more things, but it's not a shootout at this point."

The meetings come as Burger King searches for a chief marketing officer to succeed Chris Clouser, who is retiring. Campbell-Mithun declined comment. Deutsch CEO Donny Deutsch said, "We are Burger King's agency of record for franchisees and continue to help Burger King in any way we can."

flame broiling

Campbell-Mithun may have an advantage because it worked with Mr. Blum in his early career at General Mills. Also, the shop was a strong contender for the general market business in an earlier 2001 review when it were awarded the kids business instead. The agency's pitch at the time is said to have been in sync with Mr. Blum's current strategic focus.

That focus is flame broiling.

For the agency presentations, Burger King shops have been asked to come up with ways to emphasize that the chain is cooking with fire. "Cooking with fire clearly plays up on one of the strongest equities of the brand and [Mr. Blum] is intrigued by the opportunity to use it," said the spokesman. But he added, "At this point, we need more information on how the consumer believes in it."

"It talks about that we do-cook over an open fire," said Steve Lewis, a franchisee and chairman emeritus of Burger King's National Franchisee Association. "There's tremendous positive from that."

A national spot via Amoeba, Los Angeles, for the chain's barbecue-flavor Western Whopper already includes one version of the line: "Cookin' over an open fire." The company has trademarked other versions, including "We're cookin' with fire" and "Nothing tastes better than food cooked over an open fire." Options were somewhat limited since some fiery taglines have already been trademarked by quasi-competitors such as Charbroil.

Burger King's on-again, off-again use of the flame-broiling benefit has rankled some franchisees. "If I would have been running the marketing group for that organization in the last 15 years, we'd have been talking about flame broiling and `Have it your way'," said Dan Fitzpatrick, a franchisee who now oversees the franchisee marketing advisory committee. "But we've had 10 CEOs in 10 years."

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