Heineken Wrong to Assume NYC Has All the Ad Answers

An Ad Age Editorial

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When Heineken USA ends its relationship with Wieden & Kennedy's Portland, Ore., office in the coming months, it will likely be working with its fourth agency in as many years. The account has swung from Publicis to Berlin Cameron to the great Wieden & Kennedy. Unsurprisingly, business has suffered of late. Sales volume fell nearly 12% through April 19 in food, drug and convenience stores, according to Information Resources Inc.

It's not a stretch to say that Heineken has some big marketing problems, not the least of which is a chemistry issue with the agencies it works with. While an agency review might help sort things out, the importer certainly isn't helping itself by putting an unusual restriction on the agencies it will consider. Rather than survey the entire field of agencies that would be thirsty to work for a brand with the equity of Heineken, the marketing leadership at the White Plains, N.Y.-based marketer is confining its search to New York City-area agencies. The rationale: Heineken said it's opening a marketing headquarters in the city and wants an agency close by.

This is misguided. First, there's the obvious point that it's a mistake to ignore the excellent shops that don't have an office in the Big Apple. The Martin Agency works out of Richmond, Va., and Crispin Porter & Bogusky operates out of Miami and Boulder, Colo. San Francisco is teeming with elite shops, from Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners to Goodby, Silversein & Partners. New York, to put it mildly, is no longer the sun in the creative universe.

There are benefits to this move. Not having to pay an agency for travel will certainly help keep costs down and reduce the environmental footprint created by the relationship. But we don't agree that it will achieve the stated reason for the restriction: "to strengthen relationships and foster greater collaboration with agency partners as well as consumers."

The best way to create a strong bond with an agency is to begin by choosing the right agency. That's not about geographic proximity, but rather about finding the right core of creatives, planners and account managers who understand the brand and its consumers as well as the corporate pressures faced by the marketers themselves. And, these days, that agency can be just about anywhere.

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