Bertucci's Hires SapientNitro as Part of Overhaul of the Restaurant Brand

Top Marketer Skip Weldon Says Chain Wants to 'Connect with Millennials'

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Italian casual-dining chain Bertucci's has tapped SapientNitro as its agency of record, a move that 's part of a larger overhaul for the Boston-based chain.

"We were looking for an agency that could help us figure out the next generation of customers," Skip Weldon, senior VP-marketing at Bertucci's, told Ad Age . "We've seen the restaurant industry change dramatically. It's critical for us to grow to appeal to new users of the brand."

The account was previously handled by Boston-based indie shop Connelly Partners, which handled the business for five years.

The agency change comes as the chain tries to lure younger customers.

"People use restaurants differently today than they did 10 years ago. The younger generation is looking for different things. As a 30-year-old brand we have strong appeal with the baby boomers, but lifestyles have changed," said Mr. Weldon, who joined Bertucci's in April 2010 from a marketing post at Friendly Ice Cream Corp.

Boston-based SapientNitro will handle all marketing duties, including creative, digital and media planning and buying. It will also have a hand in menu development for the restaurant. Mr. Weldon said that while the chain does not plan to increase its ad spending, it is aiming to "make it more effective. "

He added: "We felt Sapient had a good handle on how to reach the millennial market, as well as communicate the brand. We're looking to change the media mix as we look to connect with millennials. "

Bertucci's new media mix will likely include more digital, mobile and social-media efforts, said Eric Healy, VP and new-business lead at SapientNitro. He added that there's a trend toward localized content, which could benefit the restaurant chain.

"Part of the onus here is making it not just about Bertucci's as a big, established regional brand, but it's more about making Bertucci's relevant as it relates to the Bertucci's [location] consumers know or frequent the most ... and what you can do with the advertising and communications to seed and reinforce that . "

To help appeal to a broader audience, the chain is in the midst of a menu refresh, overseen by its head chef, Jeff Tenner, who joined the company last year. Mr. Weldon said that while Bertucci's menu is built around its pizza offering, the chain will add "more contemporary flavors" to the pizza, as well as new salads and appetizers and "maybe unexpected flavors that you wouldn't think you'd see here to get people's attention."

The willingness to try new approaches comes as Bertucci's, like many other casual-dining chains, was challenged by the economic downturn. The privately held company with nearly 100 locations had estimated system-wide sales of $199 million, down 3.4% from $206 million in the prior year, according to Technomic.

Mr. Weldon did not provide details on sales, but said the agency change was less about poor results and more about capitalizing on "great opportunity in the marketplace. "

The chain ranks No. 7 on Technomic's list of top full-service Italian restaurants by sales. Olive Garden is No. 1 in the category with a 22 .9% command of the market. Bertucci's spends under $10 million a year on measured media, according to Kantar.

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