Beer bust

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A $20 million account in a high-profile category that begs for hot creative will set new-business hearts aflutter at any time. In this economic climate, it's practically cause for palpitations. But agencies thirsting for Boston Beer's business-and there will be plenty-would be wise to think twice before bellying up to Boston Beer founder Jim Koch's bar.

Boston Beer has easily earned a place among clients legendary for shifting loyalties. The brewer of Samuel Adams Boston Lager is now soliciting ideas from shops beyond incumbent McCarthy Mambro Bertino, Boston-anointed only three months ago after the agency's principals broke off from Square One, Boston, to take on the account. (Square One had a conflict with Miller Brewing Co.) Should the brewer sign on yet another agency, it would be Boston Beer's fifth in five years (including some of the best: Wieden & Kennedy, Carmichael Lynch and McCann-Erickson Worldwide).

Despite Boston Beer's high agency turnover, there should be no shortage of shops courting it. "It's not about how clients treat you," said an agency executive familiar with the account. "It's about how big their budget is, and it's cutback time."

That's a sad commentary. But forward-looking agencies will realize that spending time and energy on an account that may quickly move on does not often make good economic sense. Some client problems advertising alone may not fix. Boston Beer created a booming market in specialty brews but has not been able to keep pace. Moreover, its stock is sinking despite a high-quality product and premium pricing.

Chase the account if you will. Just make sure you're not left crying in your beer.

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