Media Edge grabs more of Tricon pie

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Pizza Hut awarded its $150 million in media planning to WPP Group's Media Edge, bringing the shop within striking distance of becoming media agency of record for Tricon Global Restaurants' $550 million account.

The planning business was moved quietly from Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, creative agency for Pizza Hut and Tricon sibling KFC. Media Edge already handles national broadcast buying for Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell-the third Tricon chain-and does planning for KFC. The last piece of the puzzle is the planning business of Taco Bell, currently housed at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, San Francisco, which also handles Taco Bell creative work.

"The only national portion of Tricon business we don't have is planning for Taco Bell," said Mitch Burg, president of the Media Edge North America. However, he denied his shop is pursuing it. "Right now, we are concentrating on building business for Pizza Hut and KFC."

Taco Bell Corp. handed its $204 million account to FCB in July 2000 on an "interim" agency basis after the marketer parted ways with Omnicom's TBWA/Chiat/ Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., and its famous campaign featuring a Chihuahua. Last October, Taco Bell's same-store sales were up 2% and as a result, FCB's status was upgraded to agency of record, (AA, Oct. 9).

At the time, an executive close to the situation said Taco Bell reserved the option of a review at a later date. Since then, same-store sales have dropped; year to date the chain's same-store sales fell 4% as compared with 3% growth at Pizza Hut and 2% same-store sales growth at KFC.

According to Mr. Burg, Media Edge picked up Pizza Hut planning based on its solid performance in national broadcast buying for the chain. Most recently, the agency engineered a $90 million cross-platform deal between Tricon and News Corp. (AA, June 4) that included Taco Bell. Media Edge has worked closely with Pizza Hut in the area of modeling and accountability.

"We have a great modeling group. We've done a ton of business in that area this year," Mr. Burg said. "That is one of the reasons why we are able to grow our relationship with Pizza Hut." The modeling group is led by Joe Abruzzo, exec VP-director of marketing and research.

Melissa McDonell, 42, formerly Pizza Hut's VP-field marketing, and now its VP-customer communications, was instrumental in shifting the planning business to Media Edge. Ms. McDonell's job is a new position that consolidates the responsibility for managing the chain's media buying and planning and print placement. She reports to Randy Gier, the company's chief marketing officer. Previously, that responsibility was shared by the company's marketing leadership team, which included Ms. McDonell and Jeff Fox, then Pizza Hut's VP-national marketing. On June 22, Mr. Fox moved to VP-national marketing at Taco Bell.

"The idea is to have a more integrated approach as to how we actually communicate with our customers," Ms. McDonell said. "When you have one person in charge it makes our marketing more customer-centric."

"We engaged Media Edge back in January to do a specific modeling project for us," Ms. McDonell said, explaining why the company shifted the business. "We were very impressed with the early fruits of that project and with the caliber of their work on the buying side. We were looking for synergies between having the planning and the buying and the research all in one place. You get the insights into market activity a lot faster."

The Pizza Hut win comes as a needed shot in the arm for Media Edge, which already lost several large accounts this year including H.J. Heinz Co., GlaxoSmithKline, Kraft Foods and Fort James. The Heinz business alone was worth about $60 million.

Contributing: Kate MacArthur

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