Applebee's Hires Cohn & Wolfe for Global PR Amid Brand Transformation

WPP Shop Also Won Global Corporate Communications Account for Parent Company Dine Equity

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Applebee's new certified USDA Choice steaks on its recently added wood-fired grills.
Applebee's new certified USDA Choice steaks on its recently added wood-fired grills. Credit: Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar

Applebee's has hired WPP agency Cohn & Wolfe as its global PR agency for consumer, corporate and franchisee communications as the marketer embarks on a business transformation and $75 million marketing campaign.

The agency pitched and won the business for both Applebee's global PR and parent company DineEquity's corporate communications, which includes corporate social responsibility, executive visibility and issues management as needed, said Steven Coe, executive director, communications at DineEquity, via email. He declined to provide further detail about the review process.

In 2012, Applebee's hired Crossroads as its PR agency of record following a request for proposals that involved 12 agencies. The relationship ended in January 2015.

Earlier this month, Applebee's announced its plans around a new global marketing campaign and positioning after the brand saw a sales slump of 3.7% in the U.S. for the first quarter of the year. Mr. Coe said via email that the chain "selected Cohn & Wolfe specifically because we knew they were up to the task of managing our communications through this major business transformation."

"Our 360-degree brand marketing effort includes everything from reinvigorating our menu and remodeling restaurants, to a large-scale integrated communications campaign including advertising, PR and events," he wrote. "We're looking to instill a new excitement for Applebee's, not just for diners, but for franchisees as well."

Cohn & Wolfe will help "effectively change the story at Applebee's" by making the brand more relevant and appealing to today's consumers with its American cuisine and "American-made wood-fired grills," according to Mr. Coe. At the beginning of May, Applebee's introduced new wood-fired grills for its restaurants and certified USDA Choice steaks as part of its brand refresh.

Budget information and contract length were not disclosed.

In addition to Applebee's, DineEquity owns IHOP, which saw a 1.5% domestic sales increase for Q1 and recently entered the Panama market with a restaurant in Panama City. The brand plans on opening five more locations in Panama in the next five years.

Last December, Applebee's selected Barkley as its new creative agency, but the independent shop didn't begin working on the business until March 1.

Applebee's spent $165.4 million in U.S. measured media last year, according to Kantar Media.

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CORRECTION: Applebee's is launching a $75 million marketing campaign. An earlier version of this story put that figure at $125 million.

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