Media First snags BK's cable buying

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In a victory for small, independent players, Media First International wrested Burger King's $65 million cable TV buying account away from Bcom3 Group's MediaVest without a review. MediaVest will continue to handle the remainder of Burger King's $400 million media buying account, and will provide planning services for the cable portion of the Burger King business.

Longtime J. Walter Thompson Co. exec Richard Kostyra formed Media First in 1992 with the $50 million Northwest Airlines business as its premier account. Northwest's senior VP-administration at the time was Chris Clouser, now Burger King's chief marketing officer. Mr. Clouser's chief lieutenant at Northwest, Charlie Pacunas, was recently named to senior director-global media at Burger King, and is the single point of contact for media buying at the Diageo unit.

According to executives close to the situation, Mr. Pacunas was responsible for the unusual shift of cable buying duties to Media First. Both Mr. Pacunas and Mr. Clouser referred calls to a spokeswoman, who said, "We certainly have not issued any statements regarding any shifts."

George Mahrlig, partner at Media First, who had worked on Burger King when he was associate planning director at BBDO Worldwide many years ago, will handle the account at the New York agency. More recently, Mr. Mahrlig did stints on the client side as director of media services at Campbell Soup Co., and director of media and event marketing at Coors Brewing. Mr. Mahrlig declined comment.

Media First's relationship with Burger King comes on the heels of recent marketing management shifts at the burger chain, which is charged with boosting sales over the next 18 months to facilitate Diageo's spinoff of Burger King. Those changes involve key promotions, including the naming of Mr. Pacunas and Hal Rossiter as senior director-interactive and adult promotions. Both Mr. Rossiter and Mr. Pacunas report to Richard Taylor, VP-global advertising and promotion, who in turn reports to Mr. Clouser.

The Media First assignment is one of a series of recent moves by Mr. Clouser to surround himself with executives and agencies he knows and trusts. He's also just tapped WPP Group's VML, Kansas City, Mo., as interactive agency of record, which was confirmed by Scott McCormick, VML co-founder and president. Mr. Clouser once sat on VML's board of directors.

"[Mr. Clouser's team] has a very short time to do an incredibly huge job," said Mr. McCormick. "When you're handed that kind of job and you know you have to get it done, you first turn to people you can trust, that you don't have to build a relationship with, that have come through for you before," he said.

Burger King has made some other non-traditional shifts under Mr. Clouser. The company last month chose Howard Draft, chairman-CEO of Interpublic Group of Cos.' DraftWorldwide, Chicago, as the main point of contact for marketing integration (AA, Aug. 20), coordinating the work of his own shop, which does promotional work for the fast-feeder, and other Interpublic agencies on the Burger King roster.

The loss to MediaVest, although small, follows two other prominent client defections. Philips Electronics consolidated most of its global media buying and planning at Aegis Group's Carat, leaving its Latin American territories to MediaVest. Before the consolidation, MediaVest handled broadcast buying for consumer electronics and personal care. Perhaps more importantly, MediaVest was recently dropped as an incumbent contender in Diageo's pending U.S. beer and spirits review. MediaVest had handled planning and buying for some United Distillers & Vintners brands.

Contributing: Cara Beardi

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