SARA LEE SERVES UP $100 MIL IN MEDIA: CONSOLIDATION IS PART OF SWEEPING RESTRUCTURING

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Sara Lee Corp. is conducting a $100 million review to unify media buying for its far-flung businesses, which range from hot dogs to hosiery.

The consolidation is part of a sweeping three-year restructuring program for the $20 billion conglomerate.

Sara Lee has sent out requests for proposals to roster and non-roster shops. Among those receiving the RFP is Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York, which currently handles the bulk of Sara Lee's media buying. Interpublic Group of Cos. sibling Western International Media, Los Angeles, is expected to help pitch.

OTHER ROSTER SHOPS INVOLVED

Other roster agencies contacted: Euro RSCG Tatham, Chicago (expected to pitch with sister Havas Advertising unit SFN Media, New York) and New York agencies BBDO Worldwide, Grey Advertising's MediaCom and TN Media, a sibling of creative roster agency Foote, Cone & Belding, Chicago.

Non-roster shop TeleVest, New York, also was invited to pitch the business.

Jim Van Cleave, former VP-media for Procter & Gamble Co. and now principal of Cincinnati Strategies, is a consultant on the review; he declined comment.

Sara Lee has formed an in-house committee, chaired by VP-Advertising Bob Fellows, to explore the benefits of a media consolidation. Mr. Fellows said Sara Lee hopes to "maximize the efficiencies of our media spending" with the review, which he plans to conclude this fall.

AMBITIOUS PROGRAM

A spokesman said the review is part of an ambitious program to improve efficiencies by cutting the number of suppliers with which the company works.

Sara Lee's diverse brand portfolio includes Ball Park, Champion, Coach, Hanes, Hillshire Farm, Kiwi and Playtex.

In September 1997, Sara Lee announced a three-year program to "more tightly focus its business activity and make it more competitive," with the ultimate goal of buying back $3 billion of its stock.

President Steve McMillan said at the time the goal was to cut costs by up to $50 million for the fiscal year ended in June, and up to $125 million for fiscal year 2000. Part of the savings, he said, would be reinvested in brand-building programs, including advertising.

Since then, the company has "de-verticalized" two operations -- its knitwear and bodycare units -- by shuttering factories and outsourcing some production to save money.

Sara Lee also has announced plans to spin off non-core assets; the first, earlier this year, was the Douwe Egberts/Van Nelle Tobacco unit, sold to Imperial Tobacco.

3 DIVISIONS RENAMED

Just this month, the company renamed three of its divisions to more clearly brand them -- Packaged Meats & Bakery became Sara Lee Foods; Coffee & Grocery was redubbed Coffee & Tea; and Personal Products was changed to Branded Apparel.

In its most recent earnings release for the fiscal year ended June 27, Sara Lee reported a 13% earnings increase, which Chairman-CEO John Bryan attributed to "new and accelerated level of future growth and expectations for this company as we challenge all our businesses to divest low-performing assets and increase resources on marketing and brand-building activities."

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