But after a week of waiting out long internal A-B meetings and keeping fingers crossed, D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles executives have learned a little hand-holding, or at least a courtesy call, can go a long way toward shaping perceptions and allaying concern.
How close they came to learning a more costly lesson wasn't immediately clear. D'Arcy's St. Louis office handles nearly all of the agency's A-B business, about $150 million, including Budweiser and Michelob. Industry insiders speculate while A-B didn't pull either of the accounts, D'Arcy didn't end the week on the best of terms with its key client.
A-B said only that it will allow D'Arcy's New York TeleVest unit to buy an estimated $25 million in non-sports media for Miller.
"We now have had the opportunity to review in detail the recent developments regarding D'Arcy's TeleVest media buying operation. At this time, we do not view this situation as a conflict for A-B," A-B said in a statement.
It was late on Jan. 14 when A-B learned from Advertising Age that TeleVest had picked up additional broadcast buying for Philip Morris Cos. units including Miller.
A-B wasn't the only one kept in the dark. D'Arcy's St. Louis office wasn't informed either. Office President Bill Melzer, while acknowledging it would have been better if A-B had been notified, said: "On the surface, it's not a conflict."
On paper, that appears to be the case. All media buying and planning for the brewer has been handled in-house by Busch Media Group since D'Arcy lost local buying two years ago.
But A-B reacted with surprise and consternation, both because of a potential for business encroachments and the way the executives learned of the shift.
History shows clients blow up when not informed of possible agency conflicts. In the most infamous case, RJR Nabisco pulled $80 million in Nabisco Brands advertising from Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising Worldwide, New York, in 1988 when it wasn't told about a spot Saatchi produced for Northwest Airlines that featured passengers cheering the airline's decision to ban in-flight smoking.
Now, new conflict issues are surfacing as agencies unbundle media buying and aggressively pursue outside assignments.
"This is their first test," said an A-B media executive, referring to TeleVest. "On paper, this may not have been a conflict, but you have to look at the client-agency relationship. That relationship is like a pendulum swinging back and forth. And you just want to make sure that you don't want to screw up when the pendulum is moving in the wrong direction."
The oversight was a blow to the 80-year relationship-one of the oldest, closest and, some would say, most incestuous on Madison Avenue. The "B" in the name of former D'Arcy Chairman James B. Orthwein, for example, stands for Busch. He and A-B Chairman August Busch III are cousins.
A-B's aggravation with D'Arcy comes as the nation's No. 1 beer, Bud, tries to regroup from one of its worst years, though there has been no sign A-B blames the agency.
The Miller business had been with Backer, which keeps Miller's sports media buys.M