Agency Relationships: BBDO defends Pizza Hut turf

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Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, New York, is feeling the heat on Pizza Hut's $150 million account, ruled by the agency for the past 15 years.

As Wieden & Kennedy, newly anointed second agency on the Tricon Global Restaurants chain's business, prepares to serve up its first work for Pizza Hut, BBDO last week dispatched a cadre of top executives to Tricon's Dallas headquarters in what is viewed as a defensive move. The contingent included Andrew Robertson, BBDO president-CEO, and Ted Sann, vice chairman-chief creative officer, BBDO North America, along with a number of BBDO creatives who do not currently work on the Pizza Hut account. The group did not include BBDO North America Chairman Phil Dusenberry, who is retiring next month, and has a close relationship with Tricon CEO David Novak.

The visit's goal, according to executives close to the situation: At worst, to solidify BBDO's hold on the account, or at best, win back the slice of the pie awarded to independent Wieden, based in Portland, Ore.

"[Pizza Hut] hired Wieden for killer creative, not account management," said an executive close to the marketing team. "With Wieden being the second agency, I guarantee you BBDO is worried."

BBDO declined to comment and referred all calls to Pizza Hut. A spokeswoman for the chain said "BBDO continues to be the lead agency for Pizza Hut," adding, "We meet with our agencies all the time." Wieden had no comment.

Pizza Hut, the former star-concept-turned-problem-child in the Tricon portfolio, has seen uneven sales results despite new menu introductions, discounts and promotions. Pizza Hut closed 2001 with flat same-store sales on a 5% fourth-quarter same-store decline, but showed some signs of improvement in February. Same-store sales were flat in March. Pizza Hut ended the first quarter with a 2% gain in same-store sales, below the 3% rise of Tricon sibling KFC. Taco Bell comparable-store sales were flat, but improving. Wieden bested Cliff Freeman & Partners, WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather and Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, all New York, for a secondary assignment for one-off projects, with Pizza Hut's "Insider" specialty the first work, scheduled to break in mid-May.

contributing: alice z. cuneo

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