IT'S G'DAY FOR OUTBACK, TBWA ON $30 MIL ACCOUNT: STEAK HOUSE CHAIN GOES IN-HOUSE AFTER LATEST AGENCY SPLIT

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Outback Steakhouse is bringing its $30 million account in-house following a split with TBWA/Chiat/Day, New York.

"We will not be doing an agency review," said Nancy Schneid, VP-marketing for the Australian-themed restaurant chain. "We will continue to use independent creative resources we have used over the years, and some new ones, as we move forward."

Ms. Schneid said future work will carry the chain's long-running theme, "No rules. Just right."

The split follows a revamping of the New York management team by TBWA/Chiat/Day this spring to place a greater emphasis on the creative side of the business.

Carl Johnson, president-CEO of the agency's New York office, said it was "not the right time to publicly comment" on the parting

CLOW STEPPED IN ON ADS

Executives close to the situation, however, said the agency felt constrained by tight creative requirements. The agency even brought in its top creative gun, Chairman-Chief Creative Officer Lee Clow, to work on the December '98 launch of Outback's campaign.

That first commercial drew criticism from some industry observers for its emphasis on buxom women cavorting with beefy guys on a beach as they broke posted rules.

Ms. Schneid had high hopes for the campaign and the new shop, which was selected from among 12 contenders. In an April 1998 interview with Advertising Age, she said: "We have selected a partner that will work with the Outback brand for the next 10 years, and it's a partnership built for the future."

This is Outback's third agency split in four years. WestGroup, Tampa, Fla., lost the business to McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, in January 1996. McCann did not participate in the review that resulted in TBWA/Chiat/Day's win.

Outback sparked a steak house boom. It burst onto the restaurant scene 11 years ago and has grown to a business of more than 517 restaurants open only for dinner. For the quarter ended June 30, same-store sales rose 6%.

NEW INITIATIVE

Malcolm M. Knapp, a New York restaurant consultant, said the agency split is not a sign of weakness. In fact, he believes new initiatives -- such as selling steak dinners to go -- stand to boost sales further.

"This is a well-run company, and Outback is doing well," he said. "Their marketing is fine. They are in great shape. They've got a nice initiative on takeout, and they are doing it in an intelligent way." Outback has also gotten significant mileage out of its sponsorship deals, he said.

However, Wall Street has punished Outback recently, driving the stock from a 52-week high near $40 per share in July to the $20 range last week. Observers attributed the drop to concerns about the growth potential of other restaurant concepts the company has introduced, such as Carraba's Italian Grill and a joint

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