A-B's Top Guy to Staff: Wow, This Is Awkward ...

Marketing Chief Finds Himself in Charge of Three Who Preceded Him

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LAS VEGAS (AdAge.com) -- Less than a week after being handed the reins to Anheuser-Busch's $900 million-plus marketing budget, Dave Peacock stood in front of the brewer's wholesalers here and declared, "I've got a hard job."
As part of a leadership shuffle at Anheuser-Busch, Exec VP-Creative and Industry Development Bob Lachky (above) now reports to Dave Peacock, the company's new marketing chief.
As part of a leadership shuffle at Anheuser-Busch, Exec VP-Creative and Industry Development Bob Lachky (above) now reports to Dave Peacock, the company's new marketing chief.

He wasn't kidding.

Mr. Peacock was specifically referring to the challenge of balancing the marketing needs of a rapidly expanding product portfolio with a changing media landscape, along with the at-times-conflicting demands of CEO August Busch IV and the No. 1 brewer's powerful wholesaler system. But the new VP-marketing just as easily could have been describing another challenge: He now has three former top marketers at A-B reporting to him.

As part of the shuffle that installed Mr. Peacock, 38, as A-B's marketing chief, A-B's VP-Global Media and Sports Marketing Tony Ponturo; Exec VP-Creative and Industry Development Bob Lachky; and VP-Brand Management Marlene Coulis (who is getting a new title) all now report directly to Mr. Peacock. Prior to the switch, they all reported to Mr. Busch.

That could be awkward for high-powered executives such as Mr. Ponturo, a mainstay on the various published lists of the 20 most powerful people in sports, who used to count Mr. Peacock among his interns.

"It's an awkward situation, "said Liz Ryan, a former top human-resources executive at U.S. Robotics who today writes an online column on workplace issues for BusinessWeek. "It'll be important for him to defer like hell to them for the first few months, until they get the equilibrium they're looking for."

A-B executives have indicated Mr. Peacock is likely to do just that, allowing Mr. Lachky, for instance, to continue heading up A-B's ad-agency relationships and Mr. Ponturo to continue dictating its media and sports-marketing investments. Ms. Coulis, now the brewer's VP-consumer strategy and innovation, is being shifted back into a research-oriented role similar to the one she inhabited before a brief-but-groundbreaking stint running the brewer's creative advertising during 2005 and 2006.

Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Peacock declined to comment.

Web of responsibilities
A-B's difficult year has been the impetus for the shuffle. Its core Bud and Michelob brands are sagging as its tries to work a huge stable of new brands -- among them Stella Artois, Grolsch and Rolling Rock, as well as a slew of craft beers, boutique liquor brands and even bottled waters -- into its once-narrow product portfolio. That's led to a plethora of supply-chain hiccups and product shortages that compounded A-B's difficulties this year. ACNielsen data released in early September showed A-B's volume down 0.1% year to date and 1% during the 52-week period ending Sept. 8.

Mr. Peacock was responsible for structuring many of the import and distribution agreements that, while welcomed by the brewer's formerly import- and craft-starved wholesalers as an essential step in the long run, inadvertently created much of the confusion that led to the management shuffle.

"It's fair to say it wasn't always clear who was responsible for what, exactly," said one person familiar with A-B's previous structure. "Now it's been rectified."

While that remains to be seen, it is clear that A-B is taking steps to become more of a portfolio-management company, such as the diversified alcohol giant Diageo, and less like the narrowly focused Bud-pusher it's been for more than a century. Joining the aforementioned marketers under Mr. Peacock is sales veteran Keith Levy as VP-brand management and geo marketing, a position intended to help A-B juggle its expanding brand roster.

To that end, the brewer has also hired the Chicago-based Cambridge Group, a portfolio-management consultancy, to help it with prioritizing and targeting its brands. People familiar with the matter said the consultancy's research will inform creative on virtually every A-B brand by year's end.

King of kings ... but king of beers?

  • Put most of the country's leading beer distributors and brewery executives in Las Vegas for a few days, and it's only natural to kick off the proceedings with prayer, right? The invocation for the 70th annual National Beer Wholesalers Association annual convention, delivered by a self-described beer-drinking priest from Louisiana, told the "heavenly father" that the group had gathered in his name and asked that decisions made at the booze convention in the gambling capital be pleasing to him.

    Honestly, how could they not be?

  • Scott Barnum, a founding board member at eBay who today goes by the title "Chief 'Weizen' Guy" at Seattle's Pyramid brewery, summed up the difficulties big-brand wholesalers have selling craft beer: "It's like trying to sell a Delmonico steak when you've been selling Big Macs. It's just different."

  • Miller CEO Tom Long dedicated his keynote speech to the lessons of Spanglish-tinged Miller Chill, which has helped boost the brewer's fortunes after a rapid rollout this summer. Mr. Long surmised that -- contrary to some predictions -- the Miller name wasn't overshadowing the pricier Chill brand, but rather working in perfect, albeit ridiculous-sounding, symbiosis: "Miller helps the Chill because it brings our light-beer credentials front and center, and the Chill helps the Miller by injecting new energy into our trademark."

  • Coors namesake Pete Coors hosted a poolside hospitality session for the company's distributors but spent most of the time stoically fixated on the 14-inning Rockies-Padres playoff game at Coors Field in Denver, at the expense of most of his guests. "I'm not being a very good host," he admitted, eyes glued to the TV. His mood lightened when the Rockies won in dramatic fashion, and he began high-fiving onlookers, a noted contrast to the gloomy San Diego-area distributors with whom he'd been watching the game.

  • The association unveiled its first music video, "Mr. Beer Guy," which sets scenes of ways beer distributors spend their days to ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky." A spokeswoman said it would be used to educate legislators, retailers and consumers on the role of distributors.
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