A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.
NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Last week, executives from Chick-fil-A made their annual media stop in New York to promote its spicy sandwich and in honor of Cow Appreciation Day. The goofy holiday is an offshoot of the company's long-running marketing effort that got its start as a one-off billboard that, at the time, was actually off strategy.
Fifteen years later, the cows are still on a quest to get consumers to eat more chicken and the fast-feeder is still with Dallas-based The Richards Group. We sat down with VP-Marketing David Salyers to talk football, strategy and the likelihood of opening on Sunday.
Ad Age: You've been with the Richards Group for a long time. Describe that relationship.
Mr. Salyers: We always pick someone to do business with that we think we can do business with for the long haul, and the ad agency is no exception to that. We took a lot of time in selecting the Richards Group. We looked throughout the United States, we personally went and visited over 20 agencies, we narrowed it down to three. At the time that we narrowed it down to three we assigned each of them the same project, and we literally worked with them for several months to simulate what it would be like to work with them over the long haul, and selected the Richards Group based on being the agency we had the most chemistry with. ... So we've got a real vested interest in them, they've got a real vested interest in us, and I don't see any reason why we would want to walk away from them at this point.
Ad Age: Why has Chick-fil-A remained so conservative in terms of growth strategy and menu-development?
Mr. Salyers: Our point of view on business is very different than a lot of others, and I think it stems from the owner and his personal values, but also the fact that we're privately held. Truett Cathy, the owner of Chick-fil-A, has a very long-term perspective on business. We make decisions that many times don't pay off in the next 90 days. ... The success that we're enjoying today, even in the midst of this financial crisis, is not [based on] what we did yesterday, it's what we've been doing over the course of years. ... A lot of our competitors are kind of forced into 90-day cycles because they've got to report back to stockholders, and there's a lot of short-term mentality. When you have a short-term mentality, it limits your thinking to only different investments that pay off in the short run.
Ad Age: How has college football played a role in the growth of Chick-fil-A, and would the company support a playoff system?
Mr. Salyers: The reason that we selected college athletics was very, very specific. Due to a limited budget and a limited geographic footprint, we wanted to focus our marketing resources on something where we'd get the highest return on investment. And we didn't have enough money to go wide, into lots of other things. ... We knew getting involved with college football would allow us to reach the college demographic ... so we just started putting pieces of the puzzle together. The Chick-fil-A bowl became a piece. The Chick-fil-A kickoff game has become a piece. We ... got involved with the College Football Hall of Fame, we did a season long buy on ESPN, we did a season long buy on CBS. ... So if the BCS were to become a playoff system, only one piece of our college athletic puzzle is the Chick-fil-A bowl. Certainly it's a big piece, it's the crown jewel, but ... we'd just find a way to tie in and continue to use that as kind of our platform to reach our customers.
Ad Age: Do you ever get pressure to open on Sundays?
Mr. Salyers: We've always had pressure from customers, even landlords. Truett has gotten a number of letters from mall landlords, saying, "Hey, if you open on Sundays, I'll write a big check to your favorite charity or whatever." ... But ultimately, we feel like it's a fundamental business issue to us ... and we're not tempted to open on Sunday. Ironically, a lot of people respect the fact that we put something ahead of making another dollar in life. ... They realize that there are more important things in life than just selling another chicken sandwich, or making another dollar,
Ad Age: What do you think would happen first: a hamburger on the menu, or a Chick-fil-A opening on a Sunday?
Mr. Salyers: Definitely a hamburger on the menu. Not even close.