JWT feels heat on Kraft, Miller

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J. Walter Thompson Co. is showing signs of distress on two crucial accounts-Kraft Foods' cheese business and Miller Genuine Draft-landing Chicago office President Brian Heffernan in the hot seat.

Following a negative performance review, Kraft put the agency on probation for its cheese business, according to two executives close to the business. Miller, now owned by South African Breweries, confirmed it has reallocated spending on JWT's Miller Genuine Draft until the agency gets its creative on track. "We've really been pushing [JWT] to get the right execution," said a spokesman, adding that the brewer is shifting its spending to Lite, handled by sibling WPP Group shop Ogilvy & Mather, New York, and High Life, at independent Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore.

JWT's New York brass is said to have quietly contacted executives in the WPP family as possible successors for Mr. Heffernan, according to two executives close to the situation. Mr. Heffernan said there has been "no change whatsoever" in his position, and a JWT spokesman denied any search.

Kraft recently shifted its Rip-Ums snack cheese from JWT to Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, Chicago, as the first work on the brand appeared. A third executive close to the situation said Kraft earlier had expressed unhappiness with JWT's 2000 umbrella campaign, "There's something about Kraft cheese," which has evolved to brand-specific advertising bearing the refrain "America spells cheese K-R-A-F-T." JWT handles about $66 million in Kraft cheese business, which accounts for 12% of the marketer's U.S. revenue. The JWT spokesman denied the agency is on probation.

A Kraft spokeswoman said the Rip-Ums move would "allow [JWT] to focus better on other work, including Kraft Singles and Philadelphia Cream Cheese." She declined to comment on whether the shop was on probation.

JWT has struggled on Genuine Draft and has shuffled and dismissed account and creative executives on the brand. Mr. Heffernan acknowledged the agency is changing Genuine Draft's positioning but declined to comment on the brand's spending.

MGD measured media spending has seesawed between 1998's $55 million and last year's $50 million, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. Volume fell 8% from 5.9 million barrels in 1998, the year before JWT won the account, to 5.4 million barrels last year, according to Beer Marketer's Insights.

After distributor criticism over its sexually explicit storylines, JWT in March went back to the drawing board to create "Pure MGD." While distributors like the "Pure" positioning, executions fizzled.

contributing: stephanie thompson

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