Steak 'n Shake Seeks New Creative Agency

Pitch Comes Amid a Wave of Restaurant Reviews

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CHICAGO ( -- Regional restaurant chain Steak 'n Shake is conducting an agency review, according to executives familiar with the matter. The pitch marks the fourth restaurant brand to seek new creative in recent months, including the sibling chains Carl's Jr. and Hardee's, drive-in Sonic and Arby's .

Steak 'n Shake's decision to look for a new advertising partner comes nearly two years after the chain's 18-year relationship with Indianapolis-based Young & Laramore ended. The now-defunct independent Varnson Group worked with Steak 'n Shake briefly in 2009 following Young & Laramore, but there is believed to be no current incumbent. Representatives for Steak 'n Shake and its parent company, Biglari Holdings, did not return calls by press time.

The casual-dining category was hard-hit by the recession, and as restaurants try to lure customers back, many are looking to change their advertising strategies. Another chain that is currently in review is Sonic Corp., which in October ended its 17-year relationship with independent agency Barkley -- only to later say the agency will continue to work with Sonic, albeit in a much-reduced capacity. The bulk of the Sonic account -- mainly national creative and media duties -- still remains in play. CKE Restaurants' Carl's Jr. and Hardee's restaurants also in October put their creative accounts into review; incumbent and Hakuhodo-owned Mendelsohn Zien is defending.

The largest pitch in the category is that for Arby's , which in August put its creative account into play, ending a six-year relationship with Omnicom Group's Merkley & Partners. The fast-feeder's parent company, Wendy's /Arby's Group, in 2009 conducted a creative review for the Wendy's brand, awarding the $300 million marketing account to Publicis Groupe's Kaplan Thaler Group.

Steak 'n Shake, with nearly 500 stores in roughly 20 Midwestern and Southern states, has been incrementally upping its ad spending in recent years, according to WPP's Kantar Media. In 2009, the company spent about $17 million in U.S. measured media, up from $13.6 million in 2008 and $12.8 million in 2007.

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