MillerCoors cuts Draftfcb in favor of WPP consortium

The news couldn’t have been more devastating. At 10:30 Tuesday morning DraftFCB/Chicago president Michael Fassnacht picked up his phone and discovered MillerCoors chief marketing officer Andy England was on the line. Without wasting time, England delivered the long-rumored bombshell.

Only it was worse than expected.

England told Fassnacht MillerCoors was pulling all its business — every single bit — out of DraftFCB and redistributing it across a couple of entities.

Miller Lite is going to Saatchi & Saatchi. The Coors business is going to a consortium of WPP agencies, including Ogilvy, Young & Rubicam, JWT and Grey.  This new, yet-to-be-named Coors ad group will be based in Chicago, where MillerCoors is now headquartered.  

The possibility of DraftFCB losing the Miller Lite account had been talked about among local ad gossips for months.  But the loss of Coors, which had a relationship with DraftFCB going back 33 years, was a blow no one apparently saw coming.

Michael Fassnacht, DraftFCB/Chicago president In an official statement, DraftFCB reminded England and the rest of the MillerCoors brass what it was giving up by severing ties with the agency:  “We’re especially pleased to have helped Coors Light surpass Budweiser as the country’s No. 2 beer earlier this year.”

Sources say that within 90 minutes of getting the news from England, Fassnacht had convened a meeting of DraftFCB’s entire staff to deliver the news to them personally.  “He didn’t want to do it via e-mail or internal memo,” said one agency source. “It was very important to him (Fassnacht) that he told the staff personally,” added the source.

Loss comes a year after S.C. Johnson departed

One can only imagine how the grim news struck the rest of hundreds of DraftFCB employees, coming as it did less than a year after the huge S.C. Johnson account exited the agency.

Now with MillerCoors gone as well, the likelihood of significant layoffs looms large at DraftFCB/Chicago.

Only last week, in an in-person interview with us, Fassnacht and  co-leader and chief creative officer Todd Tilford managed to put on game faces and mask any hint that a loss of any or all of the MillerCoors business was a major concern to them at that moment. 

They pointed instead to fresh Miller Lite creative using the tagline “It’s Miller Time” that was just breaking. How, the co-leaders suggested, could MillerCoors be thinking about changing agencies?

We remember noting to them last week that it’s not uncommon for agency-client relationships to end with a simple phone call.  Within a week, that is exactly what had happened at DraftFCB. 

Andy England, MillerCoors EVP/CMO Has England acted smartly in making this drastic move? 

Of course, only time will tell for sure.  Right now it smacks of one of those sweeping changes that marketing executives have to hope will pay off.  Certainly DraftFCB’s work hasn’t been especially stellar recently for any of its MillerCoors brands.

By the same token, the work other agencies have done for other major American beer brands (we’re talking about you Budweiser and Bud Light) hasn’t been so hot either.

England apparently decided to give Saatchi & Saatchi a try after some test work they did for Miller Lite earlier this year passed muster in tests.  But we’ve had big doubts about Saatchi & Saatchi ever since they grabbed J.C.Penny (now known as JCP) away from DDB/Chicago in the middle of the night several years ago and then produced some horrendous work that was supposed to refresh and restore the brand.

Needless to say, JCP, still looking for a turnaround, has moved on to work with other agencies and different creative approaches.

Attitude change about ad agencies

As for the new WPP consortium that will take over the Coors brands, who knows what that will produce.  But if nothing else, England with this move is contributing to a disturbing trend in the ad industry.

By mushing together talent from several ad shops, England is indicating that advertising to him is just about bodies now — not about great agencies with distinct characters that once made advertising a fascinating and creative business to follow.

Of course, England has to make his numbers.  That’s the main thing he has to worry about right now. 

But make no mistake. This a very sad day for DraftFCB/Chicago.   Can they regroup after so much has gone wrong?  Last week, the shop was about 50 percent of the way to making up for the S.C. Johnson loss.

Now, suddenly, the hole is much deeper.

Contact Lewis Lazare at