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READY TO ANSWER THE BELL? FCB MAY HAVE TOUGH TIME KEEPING FAST-FOOD ACCOUNT

By Published on .

Taco Bell Worldwide sounded the alarm by putting its $150 million account into review early this month, but it's unclear whether incumbent Foote, Cone, & Belding, San Francisco, is rising to the call.

With total billings of $750 million, the San Francisco shop cannot afford to lose its second biggest account. The office had to give up the $35 million Pacific Bell account earlier this year after FCB/Leber Katz Partners, New York, won a huge new assignment from AT&T. That injury was almost offset by last month's win of $30 million in E&J Gallo Winery business.

FCB North America President-Chief Operating Officer Jack Balouseck said the agency is "aggressively pursuing" the Taco Bell account, calling on all of FCB's North American offices to help.

Yet, agency sources say the stress of servicing Taco Bell, combined with creative guru Geoff Thompson's move to FCB's Chicago office as exec VP-executive creative director, has taken its toll on San Francisco's creative staff. Mr. Thompson's former post of deputy executive creative director remains unfilled, and Executive Creative Director Mike Koelker is now dividing his time between the Levi Strauss & Co. account, the San Francisco office's largest, and Gallo and Taco Bell.

Several key creatives in San Francisco have followed Mr. Thompson to Chicago. The latest is Florence Babbitt, VP-senior producer, who moves to the Windy City in September as senior VP-director of broadcast production.

A decision from Taco Bell's four-person selection committee is expected by early next month.

FCB faces a crazy quilt of competitors. Cole & Weber, Seattle, a $90 million shop best known for its work on Boeing Co., is going up against the $1.8 billion Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt, New York and Orange County, Calif. Also included is the $265 million Richards Group, Dallas, known for work on TGI Friday's, Continental Airlines and Motel 6.

Reportedly frustrated with FCB's handling of its large, retail account, Taco Bell's inclusion of two smaller shops is curious. Cole & Weber, a unit of WPP Group, will likely draw upon Ogilvy & Mather's extensive local media buying resources put in place when O&M handled Hardee's Food Systems.

Personnel at the Richards Group have previously worked with Taco Bell at its former agency Tracy-Locke, Dallas. Bozell's biggest strength is its fast-food expertise, including current clients Long John Silver's and PepsiCo unit Hot 'n Now.

Gary Levin and Jennifer Lawrence contributed to this story.

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