MILLER WEIGHS AGENCY CHANGE FOR COOL G-DRAFT

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Miller Brewing Co., unhappy with Miller Genuine Draft's performance, this summer is meeting with agencies again including former Budweiser agency D'Arcy, Masius, Benton & Bowles, St. Louis.

The Milwaukee brewer, however, is taking pains to say the $55 million Genuine Draft account is not in review and Bates USA, New York, continues to be both agency of record for Miller, handling most media buying and planning for all brands and being creative agency for the Genuine Draft brands.

"We talk to a lot of agencies," said Rich Lalley, group director for brands carrying the Miller name. "We are not doing anything with DMB&B."

Insiders claim DMB&B on Friday began work on Miller business, most likely a product extension for Genuine Draft, but that a decision on exactly where the extension would go in Miller's brand lines may not have been made. Most likely it is a red or an ice version of Genuine Draft or perhaps a beer combining the two traits if Miller could fit the resulting lengthy brand title on a label.

While Miller's overall brand share rose, Miller Genuine Draft, the nation's No. 7 beer, saw its shipments drop 6.8% last year to 6.9 million barrels (not including Genuine Draft Light) according to Beer Marketer's Insights.

Mr. Lalley, a DMB&B executive for a decade, is one of several Miller executives with ties to the St. Louis agency. Miller Chairman Jack MacDonough worked with the agency as senior VP-brand management for Anheuser-Busch.

Miller and parent Philip Morris Cos. may also feel they owe the St. Louis agency. A-B fired DMB&B in November 1994 after 79 years because of A-B chairman August A. Busch III's anger at the agency's decision to let its TeleVest media buying unit buy media for Miller without asking for approval. (TeleVest handles media buying for Philip Morris' Kraft unit.) DMB&B executives declined comment.

In April, Miller began testing a new Genuine Draft campaign in four southern states and Albany, N.Y., that uses an "It just comes easy" tag line.

Miller blames Genuine Draft's current problems in part on its own success with new ice beers like Miller Light Ice and Ice House last year and of Red Dog.

"With the growth in specialty areas and the move to lighter brands, we had a squeeze on the center," said Mr. Lalley. "As we rolled Red Dog national, it had an impact on the focus of the system."

Mr. Lalley said that with so many new products, Miller needs to provide some attention-getting news for Genuine Draft, and while he declines to be specific on items under consideration, noted that Miller Lite benefited from new packaging, new advertising and new product extensions.

Bates, the former Miller Lite agency, suffered a setback last year when it won Lite Ice from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, only to see it transferred seven months later to Leap Partnership, Chicago. Last month Miller's Molson unit awarded Bates Medalla beer.

Pat Sloan and Mark Gleason contributed to this story.

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