NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Restaurant chain T.G.I. Friday's has launched a review of its nearly $100 million marketing account, following a five-year relationship with its current agency of record, Deutsch, Los Angeles.
The search is being managed by Joanne Davis Consulting in New York. There is no request for proposal; the marketer is reaching out to a select group of shops to take on creative and media duties. The process is scheduled to wrap up by May.
A Deutsch spokeswoman said the Interpublic Group of Cos. agency does not plan to defend the account.
"We've been with our current agency for five years, and it's just good business to explore whether we should continue with the agency or a new one is the best thing for our business going forward," a spokeswoman for the marketer said. She described the review as a "closed search" in which the company is seeking an agency to concentrate solely on its U.S. marketing needs.
T.G.I. Friday's tapped Deutsch to handle the account in 2003, shifting the business from Interpublic sibling McCann Erickson. The incumbent's latest work centers on value offerings for a 20-something's low-cost date night. Friday's is advertising a variety of entrees, such as bruschetta chicken pasta and prime-rib stroganoff, for $10.
The spots, starring Food Network's Guy Fieri, began last February with tie-ins to the network's "Ultimate Recipe Challenge," and winning recipes were featured in-store for a limited time. Mr. Fieri stayed on as a spokesman, and the chain is promoting the same tie-in for the program's second season.
Big loss for Deutsch
T.G.I. Friday's search for a new agency means the loss of a key account for Deutsch. The restaurant chain spent $90 million between January and November 2008 on domestic measured media, according to TNS Media Intelligence, and some $93 million in 2007.
It's been a rough start to the year for Deutsch's West Coast office. Troubles with the embattled General Motors brand Saturn prompted a layoff of roughly 40 employees earlier this year. That's a stark contrast to the office's banner 2008, when it brought in three beverage brands: Dr Pepper, Diet Dr Pepper and Snapple. The office also handles work for Sony PlayStation and DirecTV.
The move comes amidst a slew of leadership changes at T.G.I. Friday parent Carlson restaurant group, based in Minneapolis. In January, it installed longtime Blockbuster executive Nick Shepherd as president-CEO. Joseph Hsu and Craig Cunningham last fall were named VP-international marketing and VP-brand marketing, respectively, for T.G.I. Friday's USA.
The privately held Carlson doesn't release same-store sales figures. But amidst a challenging economy that has hit casual diners hard, the entire industry is in a quagmire. Same-store sales at Applebee's and Chili's -- the industry's two largest players in terms of locations -- fell 5% and 4% in the last quarter, respectively. Not only are consumers eating more at home, but fast-food chains such as Burger King and Pizza Hut are beginning to offer casual-dining staples such as pasta and ribs.