Theatrics help agency retain Miller account

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When Miller Brewing Co. put its $240 million media account up for grabs last winter, Starcom USA CEO John Muszynski figured his agency was a long shot to keep the account.

While Starcom had helped Miller gain on its larger rival, Anheuser-Busch Cos., earlier in the decade, sales had foundered the previous year. Rival media agencies Carat and MindShare were known to covet Miller, which, because A-B handles media in-house, is the largest brewery account with a media agency.

Halfway through the process, Miller hired Jackie Woodward, a former McDonald's executive who played a role in moving the fast-food giant's media away from Starcom just a two years earlier, to oversee the review.

"I think Miller had a preconceived notion that they'd either wind up splitting it up or walking away," Mr. Muszynski recalls.

But a theatrical pitch-including repeated outbursts from junior Starcom associates posing as heckling consumers asserting their ownership of the beer brand from the back of the room-helped persuade Miller executives that the media agency had the smartest and most creative approach to extending its message over an increasingly diverse media mix.

Starcom imagined itself as an extension of the marketer itself, Ms. Woodward says, asking magazines and websites for proposals on how they could best build Miller Lite's "Man Laws" campaign into their publications, and staking out advertising real estate never before claimed by an alcohol marketer, such as Yahoo's home page.

"The biggest reason we selected them was their shift from being our media partner to being our business partner," Ms. Woodward says. "It's a very different approach, and it's paying off in spades."

Miller was one of two major up-for-grabs accounts Starcom retained in 2006, along with Kellogg Co. ($470 million). Starcom also managed to add Walgreen Co. planning, Washington Mutual and Best Buy's local media. It was also named digital media agency for Sara Lee Corp., Hanesbrands, Applebee's and Oracle Corp.

It lost Sprint ($250 million, which merged with Nextel) and resigned Showtime Networks after it was absorbed into CBS Corp.
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