In a move that is sure to reverberate in the worst way throughout the offices of beleaguered DBB/Chicago, Bob Lachky said today that he is leaving his post as chief creative officer at Anheuser-Busch at the end of February, bringing to an end a 20-year stint at America's most prominent brewery. In an interview Tuesday, Lachky said he is still mulling what he wants to do next, but his job of overseeing creative development of advertising for A-B's portfolio of beer brands will not be filled. Instead, that job will be shared by several people in A-B's revamped marketing department, including Vice President, Marketing Keith Levy; Vice President, Trademark Brands Gregg Billmeyer, and Vice President Import, Craft & Specialty Group Andy Goeler.
Lachky's exit comes just a week after the 2009 Super Bowl, where for the first time in a while, none of the seven commercials A-B telecast during the game won USA Today's much-referenced Ad Meter popularity contest. Six of the seven spots that A-B debuted during the game were created by DDB, where Lachky was an account executive for six years before jumping to A-B.
With Lachky's A-B job now being decentralized, it remains to be seen how DDB's relationship with A-B will play out. Because of Lachky's previous ties to DDB, many observers have long maintained he heavily favored the Chicago shop, even though much of its creative for Budweiser and Bud Light hasn't been especially fresh or attention-grabbing the past several years. And the agency failed to make A-B's hugely expensive Bud.tv online venture a must-visit destination.
With A-B now under InBev's control, the Belgium-based brewing giant may decide it wants to shake up the St. Louis brewery's agency roster, which also includes Cannonball in St. Louis, LatinWorks in Austin, Tex., and Euro RSCG in Chicago. The exit of Lachky paves the way for that possible eventuality. But on Tuesday, Lachky and others at the brewery insisted DDB is still the lead agency and would continue in that role for the foreseeable future. If DDB were to hold on to some or all of its A-B business, InBev, which is known for running a tight ship, could also try to get more work out of the agency for less money.
But even as DDB's relationship with A-B is taking a potentially disturbing turn, much more remains unsettled within DDB, where a year after the suicide of creative leader Paul Tilley, agency leader Rick Carpenter has yet to name a new chief creative officer. Sources say the funds needed to cover the salary of a new creative honcho have been tied up in payments to Tilley's widow over the past year.
Lachky's departure also comes just a month after the abrupt retirement of another powerful A-B marketing executive Tony Ponturo. As recently as last fall, trade publication Advertising Age indicated Anheuser-Busch's top marketing executives had been resigned by InBev and were paid bonuses to continue on with the company. But obviously, things have changed at A-B.