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After MillerCoors Blow, Can DraftFCB Right Its Chicago Flagship?

Weakened Creative, Exec Departures and Mixed Mission Get Most of the Blame

By Published on . 10

At noon sharp on May 1, all 800 employees of DraftFCB's Chicago flagship office filed into a meeting that many of them would never forget. The agency had lost the entire MillerCoors account. The brewer's chief marketing officer, Andy England, had decided to move digital and creative to a new multiagency group within WPP.

Some staffers became visibly emotional about losing a client that in many ways was one of the firm's cultural touchstones. Predecessor agency FCB had been affiliated with Coors since the Carter administration and created famed campaigns such as "Tap the Rockies" and "The Right Beer Now." DraftFCB, an Interpublic Group of Cos. shop, had won Miller Lite in 2009. The team helped achieve a rare industry milestone: Coors Light passed Budweiser last year to become the country's No. 2 beer.

While the departure of a high-profile client is painful for any agency, it is magnified at DraftFCB. MillerCoors is just the latest out the door. Last year, 58-year client SC Johnson, a legacy FCB relationship, left, as did the TV portion of State Farm. That was in addition to the incremental loss of much of Kraft's U.S. business.

The exodus raised the volume on once-whispered questions in adland: What's wrong at DraftFCB's Chicago flagship, and can it be fixed?

A mix of current and former staffers report that a mixed mission is at the heart of the problem. The push to become an integrated shop with expertise throughout the marketing mix has been made at the expense of creative.

Coors through the years

Click to see Coors through the years; (Source: MillerCoors).

While DraftFCB has robust below-the-line business (with solid offerings in customer-relationship management, consumer intelligence, and shopper and direct marketing) its above-the-line creative and advertising abilities -- the parts of the shop for which predecessor Foote Cone & Belding was renowned -- are no longer as vigorous.

CEO-President Laurence Boschetto, who came from New York last week to assess the situation, told Ad Age in an interview at DraftFCB's office that he disagreed with that view. He maintains that its strength has always been integration and that the legacy agencies have always understood the consumer.

"The idea and the consumer insight have always been the centerpiece" of Draft and of FCB, he said. "It's not legacy FCB, and it's not legacy Draft. It's DraftFCB. Our model is about integration," he said.

On the new-business front, the agency has succeeded in reeling in accounts from Discover Card and Cox Communications, but hasn't landed lead creative duties for a blue-chip marketer in some time.

As one insider put it: "Can the creative reputation of the agency be raised? Hell, yeah."

Much of the pressure to do so in North America will be on Chicago Chief Creative Officer Todd Tilford, brought in less than a year ago from Grey , New York. Michael Fassnacht, who was installed as Chicago president almost two years ago, will also be responsible for reinvigorating the office.

DraftFCB has long been said to preach creativity and accountability, but the focus has become more on the latter, along with analytics and metrics, said several employees. Some trace this to the agency's genesis -- the 2006 merger of ad agency FCB and direct-marketing titan Draft.

"Every client has a lifespan with an agency," Mr. Boschetto said when asked about the loss of clients such as MillerCoors and SC Johnson. "I think what has taken place when you look at DraftFCB coming together, some of the brands that have left that were part of the legacy FCB ... made other choices.

"But it wasn't because we didn't help build the brands, it's not because there wasn't solid performance, and it's not because there wasn't good work," Mr. Boschetto said. "It was because [for them] it was time to move on." Clients acquired more recently are opting into DraftFCB's integrated model, he added.

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