RADIO MAKES WAVES FOR RED LOBSTER: SPECIALIZED PROMOTIONS TIED TO LOCAL DISC JOCKEYS

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Darden Restaurants' Red Lobster chain, long reliant on national TV advertising, is stepping up use of local radio following strong results in a six-month test last year.

New radio promotions for the chain are slated to begin this week in four markets: Cleveland; Miami; Norfolk, Va.; and Pittsburgh. The promotions are incremental to the chain's $70 million to $90 million ad budget, a spokesman said, adding the company hasn't determined if it will ultimately pull back from TV.

TURNAROUND UNDERWAY

"There is no big shift in marketing strategy at this point," he said.

Red Lobster, the leader in the $32 billion casual-dining segment, is in the midst of a turnaround effort.

"We understand that one restaurant, one customer at a time, one meal at a time, is the bottom line between success and failure in the restaurant business -- that the one-size-fits-all approach is gone," the spokesman said.

The radio plan involves sponsorships with local disc jockeys rather than traditional radio spots. The promotions are being handled by Local Marketing Corp., Cincinnati, and are intended to run for six months.

Shorter radio tie-ins are being launched in 17 other markets.

Euro RSCG Tatham, Chicago, handles national creative.

The chain declined to say how much it's spending on the new radio effort. Through the first 10 months of 1997, Red Lobster spent $397,000 on spot radio, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

NO MORE COUPONS

Overall marketing expenses are down, the spokesman said, because the chain has eliminated coupon price promotions.

Following eight straight quarters of sales declines, the chain posted a 1.6% increase in comparable store sales for the first quarter of fiscal 1998, and saw a 0.2% decline for the second quarter ended Nov. 23, a dip the chain attributes to the now-defunct heavy discounting that boosted traffic the year before.

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