Miller gives Zenith poor buying marks

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Cordiant's Zenith Media got its second straight poor grade from Miller Brewing Co. in a mid-year evaluation of its spot TV buying.

That's according to media executives with knowledge of a meeting between the marketer and the New York-based media buying service held in Milwaukee two weeks ago.

Mike Hart, Miller director of marketing services, issued a terse "no comment," when asked about the latest evaluation of Zenith. Miller is said to have issued a "D" grade to Zenith.

REPORT CARD 'IMPROVED'

Bonita LeFlore, exec VP-director of local broadcast for the media service, would only say that Zenith had received an "improved report card" from the beer marketer. She could make that claim because Zenith's last report card from Miller, six months ago, gave Zenith a failing grade.

Zenith is the media buying arm of Cordiant, parent to Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising and Bates Worldwide; the latter is Miller's lead agency.

Miller is a big spender in the spot TV market, doling out more than $200 annually.

The brewer has seen market share slip for several of its brands recently; its problems with Zenith, which has been underdelivering its audience goals, exacerbates the situation.

When the spot TV problem surfaced after Zenith's first annual review with Miller, the solution promised the client was a rehaul and expansion of Zenith's spot buying division, including the formation of a dedicated unit for the brewer.

At the recent August meeting, the executives said, Miller was promised that Zenith would get back several million dollars worth of buys in bonus time to make up for the audience shortfalls.

NOT ENOUGH TIME

"The spin at the meeting, from the Zenith side, was that Bonita has only been onboard since April, and that all of the problems Zenith has had will disappear in the next six months," said one media executive.

The big question is how patient Miller will be. Last month, the marketer hired Steve Buerger in a new post, director of media services. Mr. Buerger came from Bayer Bess Vanderwarker, Chicago, where he was senior VP-media director.

Mr. Buerger was traveling and could not be reached. But one executive who knows him said it was doubtful Mr. Buerger would tolerate problems at Zenith for long.

"He'll study the situation and then pull the trigger," the executive said.

SPOT TV EXPERT

At Bayer Bess, Mr. Buerger became somewhat of a spot TV expert working with such clients as Quaker Oats Co. and the Illinois State Lottery.

Zenith also finds itself distracted by unrelated management changes.

The media buyer is looking for a new president-CEO of its U.S. operations following the departure last week of William Grimes. Zenith Media Worldwide Chairman John Perriss said Mr. Grimes' hiring was probably a mistake since the former ESPN executive did not have a media background.

The new chief might be recruited from an ad agency or media independent, Mr. Perriss said.

Copyright September 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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