UNCERTAINTY CONTINUES OVER MILLER'S AD STRATEGY: NEW MARKETING CHIEF IS HIRED; AGENCY LINEUP MAY BE AFFECTED

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Only a month after reassigning creative work on its two largest brands, Miller Brewing Co. may be on the brink of more changes under new VP-Marketing Jack Rooney.

Mr. Rooney, 39, was named last week to replace Neil Harrison, who left the company. Mr. Rooney has extensive beer ad and marketing experience and longtime associates in the industry.

Just last month, Miller moved the creative assignments on its $100 million Miller Lite account to Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, and the $40 million Miller Genuine Draft creative to Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., from Bates USA, New York.

Bates also lost $200 million in media buying to Burnett.

JOCKEYING FOR POSITION

But even with the new agencies barely in place, and a new Lite campaign from Fallon on the air, other shops are said to be jockeying for position at Miller.

McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, has been aggressively pursuing Miller for a brand-image assignment, say agency insiders familiar with the discussions.

McCann and Miller both denied the agency is trying to woo the beer marketer. McCann was the original creator of Lite's "Tastes great, less filling" positioning and advertising, losing the account in 1979.

Possible contenders for Miller business from Mr. Rooney's past associations include the Leap Group, Chicago, whose president, Tom Sharbaugh, headed brand management for Anheuser-Busch and worked with Mr. Rooney when the latter was an account exec at DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago.

Another is San Francisco adman and agency founder Hal Riney, who in the past worked with both Mr. Rooney and Miller Chairman Jack MacDonough.

Messrs. MacDonough and Rooney worked together in the late 1980s when the former was VP-brand management for A-B and the latter was an account exec at Hal Riney & Partners.

Most recently, Mr. Rooney was managing director at Leagas Delaney, San Francisco.

Observers say Mr. Rooney's appointment should help Miller's attempt to rejuvenate its brand images.

"That's the kind of boost Miller needs," said an agency executive who has worked with Mr. Rooney.

SHAKE-UP IS NO SURPRISE

A management shake-up at Miller had been anticipated, given the company's disappointing performance in 1996. Total shipments for Miller brands were down an estimated 3.1%, totaling 35.7 million barrels, according to Impact Databank. The company's market share fell to 18.5% in 1996 from 19.2% in '95.

Of its leading brands, only Miller Lite began showing signs of recovery, ending '96 with shipments up 0.5%, totaling 15.9 million barrels. In contrast, Miller Genuine Draft was off 3.4%, at 5.6 million barrels.M

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