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General Mills Eyeing Four Agencies

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General Mills' $450 million media consolidation will be limited to shops already on its roster, according to sources.

The competition could eventually include a sizable bonus: Pillsbury's estimated $80 million media billings.

The Minneapolis-based maker of such venerable brands as Wheaties, Cheerios and Betty Crocker has begun contacting contenders and is expected to put the review on a fast track so it can be completed before the upfront selling season begins in the spring, sources said.

A General Mills representative could not be reached for comment. Incumbent agencies either could not be reached or declined to comment.

In the U.S., the client's lineup of media shops includes OMD, Chicago; Zenith Media, New York; and Campbell Mithun's Cash Plus, Minneapolis. Universal McCann, which has worked with GM on Cereal Partners, its successful joint venture with Nestlé in the U.K., also is expected to participate, according to sources.

On the creative side, General Mills works chiefly with DDB Chicago; Saatchi & Saatchi, New York; and Campbell Mithun.

The review comes seven months after General Mills agreed to pay $10.5 billion for Diageo's Pillsbury unit. The company says the addition of Pillsbury will more than double its refrigerated foods business and expand the number of product categories in which it competes to 29.

Although the deal is not yet consummated and therefore the Pillsbury billings, currently at Starcom MediaVest Group, are not on the table, sources said they probably will be. A source said the consolidation review was motivated by the Pillsbury merger and the need to think bigger.

"They're becoming a different company," the source said, "and they're starting to think more about their global marketing."

"General Mills has a lot on their plate right now, so it's not surprising that they want to look at their advertising," said Sally Schaadt, an analyst with Fourteen Research in New York. "Pillsbury adds a lot of new categories and products, so they may be looking at some synergies there."

In the cereal category, General Mills holds a thin market share lead over rival Kellogg, which GM overtook last year for the first time since 1906, according to Hoover's Online. In the 52-weeks ending Jan. 28, GM reported $2.4 billion in cereal sales, or 32.1 percent of the market, according to Information Resources.