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Déjà Vu All Over Again

Agencies once more are chasing Burger King's business. But are they fighting over crumbs?

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There’s no question that Burger King is a major brand that needs marketing help as it tries to reverse a market share decline. But are the agencies dancing with BK ignoring a series of red flags?

BK, by its own admission, is shopping for ideas, not a new lead creative agency. Furthermore, the fast-food chain wants to own the concepts that agencies pitch in exchange for a relatively small stipend, sources said. Finally, BK seems to be in perpetual search mode, having just hired mcgarrybowen as its lead shop after a review last year.

As if those factors weren’t worrisome enough, BK also has an aggressive timetable. Marketing leaders Flavia Faugeres and Alex Macedo briefed shops at the company’s headquarters in Miami two weeks ago, and agency presentations are slated for next week, sources said.

Among those briefed were mcgarrybowen and fellow roster players like Mother as well as nonroster agencies such as Grey, McCann Erickson and Silver + Partners, sources said. Other agencies that met weeks earlier with BK executives, including BBDO, decided not to pursue the brief.

Most of the briefed shops will pitch creative concepts, but some may still back out, in part because of the red flags. Grey, for example, exited the process last week while McCann, a finalist in last year’s review, remains in. The agencies declined to comment.

BK, for its part, describes its recent agency meetings as a “normal part of our marketing process.”

At the briefings, BK execs asked agencies to develop new ideas around its “Taste is King” tagline, a BK spokesperson said.

“Agencies have been asked to pitch concepts which bring this positioning to life in new and unexpected ways,” the rep added.

The rep declined to discuss the stipend, but it amounts to $50,000, according to sources. BK also told participating shops that if a particular concept tests well, the agency behind it would be in line to collect a $1 million payout.

That could be the end of it, however. And for agencies that are used to handling most or all of a marketer’s creative business, the prospect of a quick-hit payout or project is not particularly enticing, especially for a brand that spent more than $270 million in media last year, per Nielsen.

“The pot at the end of the rainbow doesn’t seem big enough,” said a leader at a shop that BK approached. “Agencies like to gamble. Agencies do it every single day. But this one, no matter who you are, [does not have] great odds.”

Still, some shops hope their ideas will convince BK to not only hire them but also give them more work in time. Besides, it’s a tough market, and BK isn’t the only company to look before it leaps these days, offering projects instead of lead agency status.

Are such agencies irrationally optimistic? Perhaps. But to quote DDB’s long-running New York Lottery campaign: Hey, you never know.