In a surprise move, Seagram last week confirmed it would put the $37 million in worldwide billings handled by DDB Needham up for review. About half comes from the U.S.; besides Chivas, U.S. brands include Crown Royal Canadian whiskey, Captain Morgan Spiced rum, Myers's rum and Mumm's champagne.
Seagram publicly said little. "This is the appropriate time to make the move because of growth in some emerging markets," a Seagram spokesman said.
Knowledgeable observers say the decision stemmed from the unhappiness of Seagram's London-based Chivas & Glenlivet Division with creative and local service for markets outside the U.S.
A warning came in December, when Seagram moved its $20 million worldwide Martell cognac assignment from DDB Needham to Ogilvy & Mather, New York. Then earlier last week, the company's U.S. House of Seagram unit passed up DDB Needham and incumbent O&M to award the $5 million Glenlivet scotch account to TBWA.
In November, DDB Needham replaced John Bernbach as worldwide president. Mr. Bernbach, son of Doyle Dane Bernbach founder Bill Bernbach and a close friend of Seagram President Edgar Bronfman Jr., is now handling special projects amid rumors he will soon leave the agency.
Executives at DDB Needham had been expecting the Seagram move since Mr. Bernbach's status changed at the agency, which has had a 32-year, very personal relationship with the marketer.
DDB Needham's dismissal came just days after Mr. Bronfman moved during the company's shareholders meeting to quiet another controversy: what Seagram might do with its ownership of almost 15% of Time Warner stock.
Mr. Bronfman, who last week picked up the CEO title from his father, Chairman Edgar F. Bronfman, accused reporters of fomenting unwarranted talk of a Seagram takeover of Time Warner.
Mr. Bronfman confirmed a report in The New Yorker he would be willing to accept a seat on the Time Warner board if offered but said there had been no discussions and no requests.
Pat Sloan and Melanie Wells contributed to this story.