Darden Launches Media Review for Olive Garden, Red Lobster, LongHorn

Company's Three Biggest Media Accounts Total Nearly $300 Million

By Published on .

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Darden Restaurants will be putting its Red Lobster, Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse media accounts, which are managed by a number of different shops, into review. A Darden spokesperson said the company is in the "very early stages" of the review; some industry execs said the company has already started reaching out to agencies to gauge their interest.

Darden spent $119 million on domestic measured media for Red Lobster, $161 million on Olive Garden and $13 million on LongHorn Steakhouse, according to Kantar Media. Other Darden brands include Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52.

The company recently wrapped up a review for creative duties on its $120 million Red Lobster account in mid-August; WPP's Grey won the business. The independently owned Richards Group was the incumbent but, in keeping with its policy, declined to defend to the business.

Red Lobster's media account is currently split between two shops. Richards Group handles planning, while Publicis Groupe's Zenith manages buying duties. Zenith also handles buying for Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse. WPP's MediaCom manages planning for Olive Garden. A Richards Group rep did not respond to an e-mail before press time, but it is believed that the shop will abide by its policy and not defend the business. Agency reps for Zenith and MediaCom did not respond by press time.

Pile & Co. will manage the review, the Darden spokesperson said.

In March, the company named John Caron, former exec VP-marketing for Olive Garden, the first CMO of Darden Restaurants. When asked why the company was reviewing its media assignments, the spokesperson cited a press release, which Darden issued when Mr. Caron was named CMO, that spoke about creating an optimal marketing structure and organization for the future. In the release, Drew Madsen, Darden's chief operating officer, said: "We created this position with an eye toward establishing a marketing structure that enables stronger integration, greater innovation and accelerated growth across all of the Darden brands."

In its most recent earnings announcement in March, the company reported third-quarter sales of $1.9 billion, a 4.2% increase over the year-earlier period. Olive Garden's sales number for the quarter were $870 million, while Red Lobster generated $655 million in sales and the smaller LongHorn Steakhouse had third-quarter sales of $238 million. It also reported a same-restaurant-sales increase of 1.5% at Olive Garden, 0.9% at Red Lobster and 1.9% at LongHorn Steakhouse.

The company's six brands, according to its website, generate $7.2 billion in annual sales and have nearly 180,000 employees.

Most Popular