Mr. Knight left the company Jan. 10 "by mutual decision" after a little more than 15 tumuluous months in the position and nearly a decade within the larger Tricon organization. He was the last of Taco Bell's marketing regime under Mr. Waller.
Mr. Knight is currently consulting with the parent Tricon "on an undetermined transitional project," said a spokesman.
Tricon brought in Wendy's veteran Emil Brolick as its president-chief concept officer in September and handed the $204 million ad business to True North Communications' FCB Worldwide, San Francisco, and Costa Mesa, Calif. FCB already handled field marketing. Despite a number of executions supporting limited-time products, the new agency has yet to create a full campaign for the fast-feeder.
Although it holds a 78% share of the Mexican fast-food market, same store sales at Taco Bell showed double-digit declines in October through December. The chain suffered a recall of its store brand taco shells during this period.
"When you see [same store sales] down 10% there's an issue," said Allan Hickok, analyst with Piper Jaffray. "Consumers are exercising their power of choice." He suggested the economic slowdown, coupled with utility costs, may have a larger effect on Taco Bell.
Mr. Brolick will take over responsibility for marketing until a successor for Mr. Knight is found. It's believed Taco Bell may look to hire executives from Wendy's International, although a spokeswoman would only say the company is looking at "internal and external candidates."
Taco Bell, meanwhile, has denied there were any delays in its much-anticipated new branding campaign from FCB. Executives close to the company said there have been disagreements between franchisees and management over how to position the brand.
One executive acknowledged that finding a new tagline to follow "Yo Quiero Taco Bell" has been a challenge, but spokespersons denied there were any problems.