Quiznos Leaves Cliff Freeman in Another Blow to Agency

Nitro Expected to Grab Sandwich Chain's $83 Million Account

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Cliff Freeman & Partners' biggest client, the sandwich chain Quiznos, is preparing to split with the agency.

A Quiznos representative told AdAge.com in an e-mail that the marketer is "in the last 30 days of their relationship with Cliff Freeman," but "Quiznos has not hired a new [agency of record] at this point."

The agency, meanwhile, is claiming the relationship isn't quite over. "Cliff Freeman & Partners is proud of the effective work it's done in partnership with Quiznos for the past two years, and of the esteem of the Quiznos brand," a spokeswoman said. "The agency continues to service and is defending the business."

According to executives close to the matter, the sandwich chain has been in talks with several shops in recent weeks, among them Nitro Group, which is expected to snag the business. Nitro founder and CEO Chris Clarke did not respond to a call for comment. According to TNS Media Intelligence, the chain spent $83 million in U.S. measured media in 2007, the last full year of data available.

It's been a rough few months for Cliff Freeman, which in January saw Bonefish Grill shift its creative account to Y&R Chicago without a review, on the heels of losing its Snapple account to Interpublic's Deutsch.

There have been management changes, too. In November the agency pushed out its CEO of three years, Jeff McClelland, replacing him with Clayton Ruebensaal, most recently an account director at BBDO. Cliff Freeman's remaining clients are Baskin-Robbins; Quamut, a Barnes & Noble brand; Valley National Bank and Saudi Arabian Airlines.

Cliff Freeman is owned by Toronto-based holding company MDC Partners -- also the parent of Crispin Porter & Bogusky and Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners -- and has a single office, in New York.

Tapping into Nitro, a global network with offices from Shanghai to Sao Paulo, could be a boon to Quiznos as it attempts a global play to catch up with much larger competitor Subway.

Quiznos, which has around 5,000 locations, last year signed deals in the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Eastern Europe and Dominican Republic. It also struck two separate 10-year agreements, one to open 100 restaurants in India, and another to launch 175 in Brazil. It already has a presence in Canada, Central America, the United Kingdom, Korea and the Middle East.

In comparison, Subway has more than 30,000 restaurants in 87 countries from Afghanistan to Zambia. Its largest market by a wide margin is the U.S., though, with some 22,000 locations. Pizza-chain Dominos recently joined the sandwich fray,launching an aggressive taste-test campaign declaring its sandwiches are better than Subway's.

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Contributing: Emily York