Beverage Battle: FCB free to chase Coke brands

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Freed from a court-ordered non-compete agreement, Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide is again in pursuit of Coca-Cola Co. business.

But FCB will have a tough task prying its target accounts from other Coca-Cola shops, at least one of which has strengthened its ties to the marketing powerhouse. Coca-Cola does not appear inclined to shift accounts at the moment.

Last fall, FCB was set to land three major Coca-Cola accounts-Dasani water, Powerade energy drink and Minute Maid orange juice, as well as some smaller brands. But a legal challenge from former client PepsiCo blocked FCB from the business for six months.

rumblings of shift

Unable to make the switch, Coca-Cola left the accounts with their existing agencies. But FCB's non-compete agreement expired June 1, and the agency is angling to recapture one or more of the brands.

FCB's strategy comes as its parent Interpublic and rival WPP Group are vying for Coca-Cola's favor amid widespread industry rumblings about possible account shifts between the holding companies. FCB Chairman-CEO Brendan Ryan declined to comment. But after losing a series of conflicting accounts following its acquisition by Interpublic, his agency is now trying to win new business by tapping into its parent's existing relationships with clients, including not only Coca-Cola but General Motors Corp. as well. Interpublic's McCann-Erickson Worldwide handles Coca-Cola Classic, while its Lowe, New York, handles Diet Coke.

Dasani, the nation's No. 2 bottled water, is handled by Berlin Cameron & Partners, New York. That agency was independent at the time Coca-Cola planned to move Dasani to FCB. But Berlin Cameron, which could not be reached for comment, has since been acquired by WPP and merged into its Red Cell network. The acquisition strengthened Berlin Cameron's relationship with Coca-Cola since WPP's Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide is also on the marketer's agency roster. In addition, Steven J. Heyer, VP-president and chief operating officer, Coca-Cola Ventures, is said to favor expanding the beverage giant's relationship with WPP. Coca-Cola did not return a phone call seeking comment.

The other two brands that had been set to move to FCB are still handled by independent agencies. Powerade is with Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., while Minute Maid is handled by Doner, Southfield, Mich. Wieden's contract with Powerade expires in September. Wieden and Doner both declined to comment.

FCB used to handle PepsiCo's Aquafina, Gatorade and Tropicana, which moved last year to a new Omnicom Group agency. Because of that expertise, Coca-Cola last year was willing to hand the agency its water, sports-drink and orange-juice accounts. But most of the people who worked on those accounts have since followed them to Omnicom, which could make it more difficult for FCB to convince Coca-Cola that it still has an advantage over its other roster shops.

contributing: alice z. cuneo and kate macarthur

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