CONAGRA SETS $100 MILLION MEDIA REVIEW: TOP INDEPENDENT FOOD CO. SEEKS TO LEVERAGE BRAND CLOUT

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ConAgra, the nation's largest independent food company, is moving to consolidate its $100 million media account at a single agency.

The plan is to pool the media clout of what is now a vastly decentralized $24 billion company with some 80 household brands, including Healthy Choice, Peter Pan, Fleischmann's, Van Camps, La Choy, Butterball, Wesson and Orville Redenbacher.

Pat Signorelli, director of advertising services at Con-Agra unit Hunt-Wesson, is leading the consolidation effort, for which no consultant is being used. She was not available for comment at press time.

"When you buy on a brand basis, with a significantly smaller budget, you can get killed on rates," a ConAgra executive said, noting that with the company's breadth of brands, "the savings here could be significant. [Ms. Signorelli] knows media and is quite sophisticated about these things." Ms. Signorelli is a former agency executive with Foote, Cone & Belding on the West Coast.

AGENCIES IN THE HUNT

Incumbents MediaCom, New York, a unit of Grey Advertising, and SFM Media, a Euro RSCG Worldwide unit, are said to be in the hunt as agency of record, as is non-roster media shop Carat USA, also New York. Young & Rubicam's Media Edge was in the review but is not a finalist.

ConAgra "is particularly interested in hearing the [cost-per-thousand] story of last year's upfront for women 25 to 54 from these media agencies," the executive said.

"How did [the shops it's considering] do last year? And how do they use optimizers?

"The company wants to see what kind of efficiencies and cost savings it can get with a big consolidation."

DECISION DUE IN SPRING

The media agencies will make presentations to the marketer the week of March 15, with a decision expected this spring. All of the shops declined comment.

Although ConAgra did not participate in the 1998-99 TV upfront marketplace, it wants to complete its media review in time to make upfront buys this year, said the executive.

ConAgra spends just under half its media budget on national TV, another 26% on spot TV and 22% in magazines; the rest is split between radio, out-of-home, newspapers and interactive.

LATE TO THE PARTY

ConAgra is actually late to the consolidation party, following several other package-goods companies that have done so.

The trend started a few years ago when P&G chose TeleVest (now MediaVest) and Starcom Media Services as its TV and print AOR, respectively.

The most recent company in the category going that route was Sara Lee Corp., which last year also named Starcom as media AOR on its $100 million account.

"I'm almost amazed that its taken this long for a company as big as ConAgra to figure out the benefits of consolidation," said an agency executive not connected with the pitch. "It just goes to show you where media is in the pecking order of a lot of big companies. But they're beginning to see the

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