RED LOBSTER MARKETING CHIEF MEETING WITH AD AGENCIES

$80 Million Account Currently at Euro RSCG Tatham Partners

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Seafood chain Red Lobster is meeting with agencies on its $80 million account, currently at Havas' Euro RSCG Tatham Parthers, Chicago, according to executives with knowledge of the meetings.
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Within a week of the Jan. 6 resignation of Dick Rivera, Darden Restaurants' president and chief operating officer and interim president of Red Lobster, Kim Lopdrup, the chain's chief marketing officer, was personally reaching out to agencies to set up meetings, according to the executives. The nature of the meetings was said to be introductory and informal. One executive who requested anonymity said Mr. Lopdrup chose agencies whose creative he admired and that had retail experience.

Key ally
Tatham lost a key ally upon Mr. Rivera's resignation. At the time, Darden declined to comment on whether Red Lobster would be looking at other agencies, saying only that Mr. Lopdrup was "looking at everything."

"Kim Lopdrup is working on all aspects of that strategy and Kim needs time to develop his conclusions and make his recommendations to the company," a spokesman said at the time. Red Lobster executives have not returned calls. Tatham executives didn't immediately return calls.

Declining sales
Darden posted same-restaurant sales results for the five-week December fiscal month ended Dec. 28, 2003, the first month of Darden's fiscal 2004 third quarter. As expected, comparable store sales at Red Lobster fell 12% to 13% for the period, reflecting a 1% to 2% increase in check average and a 14% to 15% decline in guest counts. For the same period last year, Red Lobster had a 2% to 3% increase in same-restaurant sales. The chain spends roughly $70 million per year on advertising.

In November, the chain said it was considering changing its "Share the Love" marketing theme after the casual seafood dinner house reported its first quarterly same-store sales decline in 24 quarters.

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