BK flame-broils McCann

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Burger King Corp. dethroned Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide as lead agency on its $400 million ad account-as the agency's old spoiler, Len Fink, takes creative control at the burger giant.

"Burger King and McCann-Erickson have mutually agreed to phase out our relationship," said Richard Taylor, Burger King VP-global advertising and promotion, in a statement. The move comes just nine months after the agency was awarded the fast-feeder's account.

As it divorced McCann, however, the Diageo chain offered a vote of confidence for the agency's Interpublic siblings, awarding DraftWorldwide global promotional responsibilities and reaffirming its kids advertising assignment with Campbell Mithun. Burger King is also finalizing contracts with Weber Shandwick to handle global public relations and Octagon to handle sports marketing.

Burger King would not discuss whether it would put its account in review or how it would replace McCann. But the company's creative strategy will now be led by Mr. Fink's Amoeba, Los Angeles, a "creative outsourcing" boutique. The move marks the second time that Mr. Fink has snatched away a key McCann account: He worked at both Creative Artists Agency and spinoff Edge Creative, first consultant then agency of record for Coca-Cola Co., as it shifted its Coke Classic brand from McCann.

"I will be working collaboratively with all the creative resources of Burger King," Mr. Fink said. "We have the opportunity to suspend any politics or ownership and reach back into the great work that has been done [in the past] and not worry about whose ideas are whose. The whole idea is to help the brand."

Mr. Fink is the latest in a posse of advertising and creative executives who have ties to Burger King Chief Marketing Officer Chris Clouser and who serve as consultants. Another is Bill Lane, managing partner at McCaffery Ratner Gottlieb & Lane, New York, which insiders expect to pick up some creative assignments. After first working together when Mr. Clouser was in charge of advertising at Sprint, Mr. Lane's career path has followed closely that of Mr. Clouser. When Mr. Clouser was marketing chief for Bell Atlantic, he picked J. Walter Thompson Co., Mr. Lane's agency. Then when Mr. Clouser moved to Northwest Airlines he gave the airline's business to a shop Mr. Lane had formed.

The pattern of giving business to trusted associates is a hallmark of Mr. Clouser. "We believe this new approach to handling creative assignments will best serve our needs," Burger King's Mr. Taylor said.

Mr. Clouser is notorious for espousing a collaborative marketing philosophy within his circle. "Chris is very, very clear in a structure like this that you will stay within your area; you will not poach," said Scott McCormick, co-founder and president of VML, Burger King's recently named interactive agency of record. "When you take away competition we can get a lot done."

Mr. Fink said he has no prior relationship with Mr. Clouser. But some members of the group Mr. Clouser has assembled have six degrees of separation around McCann. When Mr. Clouser was at Bell Atlantic, he worked with Jim Heekin, now McCann Chairman-CEO and until recently the agency's lead executive on the Burger King account. Mr. Heekin rose to general manager of the New York office at JWT and was Mr. Lane's on-and-off boss, depending on whether Mr. Clouser was an active client of the agency, according to executives familiar with the relationship.

Many observers called the ouster a palace coup. "There's a lot of historical bad blood," said one former colleague. Burger King, however, has a reputation for shifting shops: McCann was its fourth agency since 1987.

Burger King said it may discuss additional creative assignments with other Interpublic agencies. Despite speculation that the account was in review, several executives suggested WPP Group agencies may also pick up some assignments from the burger behemoth. Already, WPP's VML was named interactive agency of record. Media First International won the chain's $65 million cable TV buying account from Bcom3 Group's MediaVest. Leading both shops are former JWT executives.

Contributing: Lisa Sanders and Cara Beardi.

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