W.B. Doner ad agency selected to work for Coke

March 08, 1995|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,Sun Staff Writer

Herbert Fried was preparing for a party marking his 40th anniversary at W.B. Doner & Co. last month when the ad agency's 66-year-old chairman was interrupted by the kind of present he had long hoped for.

On the phone was Sergio Zyman, a former client who had since taken a job as advertising chief for Coca-Cola Co. The Atlanta beverage behemoth spent $1.3 billion in advertising last year, but had never spent anything with Doner. That was about to change.

"This is one of the biggest names to come to Doner in its history," Mr. Fried said yesterday, after word that Coke had tapped Doner for undisclosed "special projects" leaked out to the advertising trade press. "It's one of the largest advertisers in the world. If [the advertising] is accepted and works for them, it's tremendous exposure for the agency."

Industry sources said Doner's initial Coke project will be a national campaign of advertising and retail promotions tied to the holiday season. But Mr. Fried said it was too soon to know exactly how much business Coke might eventually bring to the agency, which has headquarters both in Baltimore and Michigan, because Doner is still waiting for a briefing by Coke on how the firm fits into its newest client's broader plans.

The potential, however, is explosive. Coke's advertising spending is nearly triple Doner's entire annual billings, so carving out even a small niche in Coke's long-term plans could boost the local company dramatically.

Coke's advertising plans have shifted rapidly during the past three years, spokesman Bob Bertini said. The company has abandoned its reliance on a single ad agency and one message at a time in favor of about 20 agencies, counting agencies supporting other Coke brands such as Diet Coke, Sprite and Fruitopia, and multiple messages.

The plan was designed to adapt Coke to a world where narrowcasting and highly segmented markets are the norm, Mr. Bertini said.

"It's no longer one-size-fits-all," he said, adding that Coke's flagship brand alone now produces about 30 different TV spots a year "designed to appeal to different audiences, to fit into different programming and be used in different parts of the day."

Doner's appeal was its strong presence in retail advertising, which makes up the bulk of its $450 million in annual billings. The agency made a big part of its name locally, after its Baltimore office opened in 1955, by representing the National Brewing Company, makers of National Bohemian beer and Colt 45 Malt Liquor.

"We do every kind of advertising," Mr. Fried said. "The main thing is to make the cash register sing."

But until Doner knows just how much the Coke account will make its own cash register sing, it's too soon to say whether the account will mean more hiring at the agency, Mr. Fried said. The primary work on Coke initially will be done at Doner's Southfield, Mich., headquarters.

"It could be gigantic. . . . I don't know," Mr. Fried said. "But it has to work. You don't get long-term contracts in advertising. You've got to move Coke."

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