Doner welcomes home all of Heileman's brews After 5-year effort, ad agency wins back Lone Star, 2 others

January 04, 1996|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

Herb Fried sat in his posh office 11 stories above the Inner Harbor yesterday and celebrated a homecoming he's longed for since 1990.

At long last the brewer of National Boh and Colt 45 had returned all its advertising work to the agency that made the beers famous: Mr. Fried's W. B. Doner & Co.

G. Heileman Brewing Co.'s decision to consolidate all its creative and media-buying advertising functions with Doner represents the culmination of a concerted, five-year effort by the agency and particularly its chairman, Mr. Fried.

Heileman's decision, announced yesterday, awards Doner the Old Style, Lone Star and Rainier beers accounts and media buying for all Heileman products.

The move is of no small significance for Mr. Fried, who opened Doner's Baltimore office in 1955 to handle a new account for the Baltimore-based National Brewing Co., Heileman's predecessor and brewer of National Bohemian.

That's Natty Boh, as every good Baltimorean knows, brewed with pride in the "Land of Pleasant Living."

"If it weren't for that account," he said yesterday, "we wouldn't be sitting here today in these great digs."

Doner handled all advertising for National Brewing and Heileman for 35 years, surviving four ownership changes and the relocation of its headquarters to Chicago. Heileman still operates its brewery in Halethorpe, where it produces various brands, including Colt 45, National Premium and National Bohemian.

But Heileman dropped Doner altogether in 1990, prompting Mr. Fried's agency to mount an aggressive campaign to win back its first major account and its only beer advertising. Doner went so far as to build a sports bar in the lobby of its Detroit office -- complete with Chicago Bears and Bulls paraphernalia and, of course, Heileman products -- to woo back the brewer.

In 1994, persistence paid off, when Heileman signed Doner to handle about $7.5 million worth of Heileman accounts, including Natty Boh, Colt 45, Mickey's, Champale and Special Export. Last year, Heileman tapped Doner to advertise the Henry Weinhard's brand.

But Mr. Fried wasn't satisfied. He wanted to take Rainier and Old Style back from the Chicago agency Bayer Bess Vanderwalker.

He wanted to take Lone Star back from Monte Mayor in San Antonio. He wanted to take all Heileman's media buying back from SFM Media in New York. And he told Heileman so, as often as possible.

"Let's put it this way: It's been a long journey for me, and it was very difficult mentally," he said. "The whole thing was built on the old National Brewing Co."

Heileman declined to disclose billings for the business it awarded Doner, effective this week. The brewery's entire ad budget totaled about $22.5 million in the 1994 fiscal year, Doner said.

Joe Martino, a Heileman senior executive, said Doner's work with the Colt 45 and Special Export brands prompted the brewery to award the remainder of its advertising work to the agency.

"We're thrilled with the work they're doing," Mr. Martino said, "and it seems to be working in the marketplace."

He credited ad campaigns for rebounding sales last year of both Special Export and Colt 45.

The EX ads, for Special Export beers and malt liquors, have generated some controversy. The suggestive ads, launched in the Midwest, feature slogans such as "The Joy of EX," "Practice Safe EX," "Men Think About EX 100 Times a Day."

Criticism and clamor to pull the ads doesn't bother Mr. Fried. "We like that kind of publicity," he said, however unforeseen.

W. B. Doner, with annual billings exceeding $500 million, has offices in Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, London, Montreal, Tampa, Fla., and Toronto.

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