A-B InBev Shifts Budget Toward Working Dollars With Dedicated Shop

PMK-BNC, Weber Shandwick Collaborate Rather Than Compete

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The Interpublic group includes talent from PMK-BNC and Weber Shandwick, which work on projects for Stella Artois, among others.
The Interpublic group includes talent from PMK-BNC and Weber Shandwick, which work on projects for Stella Artois, among others. Credit: Courtesy PMK-BNC

As with many jump-ball accounts that pit agencies against each other for project work, Interpublic's PMK-BNC and Weber Shandwick typically competed for PR and marketing communications work from Anheuser-Busch InBev's Budweiser and Bud Light brands.

This worked for A-B InBev for a while, but almost a year ago, in an effort to integrate more agency staffers and make better use of its budget, the beer giant decided to try something new. It wasn't a sweeping review to cut costs or a bet on fresh talent. Rather, the model was a dedicated holding-company group dubbed 3PM that would pull in staffers from both IPG shops on various projects, largely for the Bud and Bud Light brands.

Now, almost a year later, the marketer is putting 20% to 30% more of its brands' marketing communications budget into "working dollars," typically described as money spent on marketing that consumers see and experience as opposed to things like measurement and agency fees. Both agency and client are also seeing growing PR budgets, said Lisa Weser, head of brand marketing communications at A-B InBev. The company has expanded 3PM's remit to include Stella Artois, global Corona work and corporate and employee communications.

"Prior to formation, these agencies were competitors. We were really working in a lot of silos within our brands and teams," said Ms. Weser. "What we thought to do about a year ago is attack the work in a more integrated way."

A-B InBev certainly isn't the first client to dream of an integrated holding-company approach. Adland is littered with examples, some more successful than others. Enfatico, the ill-fated WPP shop dedicated to Dell, flamed out in a record 16 months, but others, like WPP's Team Detroit for Ford and Plus for Chanel, as well as Omnicom's Nissan United, are still going strong.

Now, instead of spending time briefing two agency teams or tracking separate scopes, A-B InBev has one conversation. "Being able to centralize with one agency allows us to put our dollars where they need to be, which is working dollars, and spend less time on things like an orientation with a new agency, and things like measurement," Ms. Weser added.

There also may be a number of national initiatives for each brand at any given time, so 3PM helps to balance those events on the calendar and consolidate work flow, she said. This past summer, for example, Bud Light was working on its Whatever, USA music festival; customized cans for the TomorrowWorld music festival; cans and promotion around a Block Party Festival; and a project with Facebook and YouTube, among other efforts. By having one team, the brand cut back on planning and measurement time and brought together the right talent from the entertainment and brand groups within both shops, Ms. Weser said.

For example, for Stella Artois' summer program, the PMK-BNC team negotiated deals with celebrities like John Legend to roll out its "Host Beautifully" campaign, in which Mr. Legend would provide suggestions on the elements of hosting a party. With Weber staffers in the room, the team not only negotiated social and PR terms with "the asset," but worked together to make good use of Mr. Legend and to develop a larger strategy, including planning and executing media relations and social media, according to Susan Howe, president of consumer global marketing at Weber and president of 3PM, and Scott Floyd, exec VP at PMK-BNC and co-lead on 3PM.

"It helps to give us one brain and all of the different body parts can go out and execute there," said Ms. Weser.

Prior to the formation of 3PM, PMK-BNC alone may have handled PR for events like Budweiser's Made in America music festival, including talent announcements and property coverage. Weber separately would have handled brand and corporate communication initiatives around other events like the Super Bowl for various brands. Now, both firms are blending talent, including entertainment and corporate communications expertise, to work together on events and brand campaigns.

"We were creating some unnecessary lines in the sand in terms of talent," Ms. Weser said. "This has allowed us to have that stable of talent we can flex in and out of on different projects at different times of the year."

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