International: Labatt brings media planning in-house

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[Toronto] Following years of buying and planning being housed at specialist media-buying services, there's increasing debate in the U.S. and U.K. about whether to bring media planning back to ad agencies. But Labatt Breweries of Canada has taken a rarer step: It's brought media planning in-house.

In January 2002 the brewer, under the direction of Charles Oliver, VP-marketing (See Global Players Special Report, Page S-2), made its move in consultation with Shelley Smit, in-house media director.

"So far, we've seen nothing but advantages," said Ms. Smit. "At the time, we were looking for a new advertising agency to handle several brands after leaving [the now-defunct] Ammirati Puris, and it seemed a good time to look for the best option."

Ms. Smit had been overseeing media planning and buying by Labatt's agencies and often fielded calls from suppliers as a source of client information or to make the brewer aware directly about special opportunities.

"There's a strong connection between media strategy and brand planning," said Ms. Smit, who learned her media skills at Initiative Media (now M2 Universal), Ammirati and Media Buying Services, all in Toronto. "By bringing media planning in-house, we could align the brands and give media strategists constant access to all brand managers, promotion specialists, research and finance."

An open-concept office initiated by Mr. Oliver facilitates planning and allows the media strategists to call on various resources easily. "In addition, the media strategists have become category experts, " she said. "They've become empowered."

The in-house planning team deals with all brands in English Canada, including flagship brand Labatt Blue, imported and specialty brands, and Bud and the Bud Light Institute.

Buying is still done by M2 Universal, part of Interpublic Group of Cos. Labatt won't disclose spending figures. Nielsen Media Research puts Labatt's media spending at about $12.5 million, but the figure is believed to be higher.


One of the successful collaborations between Labatt, creative agency Omnicom Group's Downtown Partners and M2 Universal is the Bud Light Institute, an advertising and promotion campaign devoted to helping guys find ways to get together and enjoy a beer. The Bud Light Institute is such a hit that Labatt is now running a tongue-in-cheek commercial that traces the history of the fictitious Institute from 1922.

In the new spot, "History," the Institute takes credit for having invented tea parties, Tupperware parties, shoe sales, soap operas, feminism and a day at the spa. The purpose of all these clever ideas was to keep wives and girlfriends busy so the guys could get together for a golf game and other occasions when a Bud Light is shared.

At Labatt, setting up in-house media planning took three months. Four senior planners were brought in from different Labatt agencies where they had worked on the brands. "They were all passionate about beer," said Ms. Smit. "They were the only ones we asked, and they all agreed to come, and to date, there's been no turnover."

The integration with brand planning allows the media strategists to go through the creative to see how best to spend media dollars effectively. And with brands requiring flexibility, the in-house team can react quickly to market changes.

"The move was smooth with little disruption to business," Ms. Smit said. "If anything, I wish we had done it earlier."

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