The cutback will most affect Cordiant's Zenith Media, Miller's spot TV buyer. Miller gave Zenith's spot unit a failing grade at the end of last year, and a "D" for the first half of this year.
One executive close to the account said the cut "affects most of the spot budget."
But Miller's redirection is a strategic decision that has little to do with Zenith. The marketer spends about $200 million at the national level.
"Miller is hurting and sees more efficiencies if it buys national," said a media executive close to the situation. "It would be folly to think Miller would do this just because it's unhappy with Zenith."
MORE SPORTS FOR ZENITH
Since Zenith also handles sports for Miller, it will pick up national business on that end. Zenith declined comment.
A Miller spokeswoman con-firmed the company will be spending more on network TV for Miller Lite, and to a lesser degree on Miller Genuine Draft. But she declined to say where the funds would come from. She also wouldn't comment on cuts in spot TV, saying only that Miller would continue to use spot and other local media for certain brands.
Also benefiting from the move is D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles' TeleVest unit, the national buying agency for Miller.
Except for Miller Lite, the brewery's brands have been losing share this year. Also, the debut of Miller Beer has been a major disappointment. Unit sales volumes for all its brands except Lite have dropped anywhere from 6% to 43%.
The new emphasis on national media appears to be the first major move from Steve Buerger, appointed to the newly created position of director-media services in August.
The cut could anger local distributors. This summer, Miller announced that as of Jan. 1 it will eliminate co-op ad dollars it collects from distributors. That will give Miller all the power in determining media advertising vehicles.
BLESSING IN DISGUISE
For Zenith, the redirection could be a blessing in disguise.
"Miller is a very demanding client, and Zenith was trying to fix things on the run," one executive familiar with Zenith said of the agency's recent moves to beef up its spot unit. "[This] gives them a chance to retrench, get their act together and move forward."
But Zenith's spot unit isn't out of the woods yet. Wendy's International is said to have moved spot buying in up to 11 markets from Zenith to Advanced Media, Culver City, Calif. Wendy's did not return phone calls, and Advanced declined comment.
Stephen King, Zenith's exec VP-general manager, said he was unaware of the switch.