Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, Chicago and San Francisco, has handled the Coors business for 23 years, and Ron Askew, chief marketing officer at the brewer, said the agency remains its lead advertising partner. "They will continue to have the bulk of our business, and we're looking for a secondary agency to devise some very surgical smart bombs," he said. "[The new shop] will come in as a second agency with very specific assignments."
Mr. Askew wouldn't identify the agencies in consideration but said discussions are being conducted with small and large shops on both the East and West Coasts. Interpublic agencies are also in the mix. A decision is expected by early August.
It's not been determined whether the new shop will work on all products or whether it would be dedicated to certain ones. Mr. Askew said the search does not indicate any shortcoming on the part of FCB or Interpublic. "To ask one office of one operating [company] to supply all the creative needs of a business as large as ours is probably not realistic," he said. "Ideas are hard to find, and having more avenues to find them is always better."
FCB and Interpublic declined comment.
Interpublic agencies handle at least five competing brews, although Mr. Askew said that was not a factor. He said the holding company's firewalls should separate its brews, which include Super Bowl work for Anheuser-Busch Co. at Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos; A-B work at Momentum; New Century Brewing Co. at Mullen; sales promotion for Philip Morris' Cos. Miller Brewing Co. at Zipatoni; and Labatt USA at McCann-Erickson Worldwide.
With growing agency consolidation, beer conflicts are becoming more common: WPP Group handles Diageo's alternative malt beverage Smirnoff Ice as well as Miller Genuine Draft-both at J. Walter Thompson Co. though at different offices.
Mr. Askew and Coors CEO-President W. Leo Kiely III met with Interpublic CEO John Dooner on July 2, but Mr. Askew said the meeting had been planned for a long time and said did not suggest problems in the relationship. "We're really happy with Foote Cone and the work they've been doing."
That was not always the case. Three months after he arrived at Coors in October, Mr. Askew replaced some sophomoric Coors Light ads from FCB in favor of spots from Omnicom Group's Integer Group, the longtime Coors promotions shop he founded. FCB responded with its "Rock On" campaign that has distributors smiling.
While Coors does work with Integer, Mr. Askew said he is ruling out other Omnicom shops for Coors. "I didn't even call to ask," he said. "Omnicom is loyal to Anheuser-Busch."
While Coors sales have improved, they are short of expectations, according to one industry observer. First-quarter volume rose only 0.4% off a weak 2001 first quarter, according to figures from Beer Marketer's Insights. Anheuser-Busch, meanwhile, saw volume rise 1.4%, and the struggling Miller climbed 1.6%.
contributing: lisa sanders