Wendy's CMO Rowden Resigns

Exec Weathered Franchisee Revolt, Shifted $435 Million Account to Saatchi

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- After a rather rocky tenure, Wendy's Chief Marketing Officer Ian Rowden is leaving the company.
Ian Rowden
Ian Rowden

The Dublin, Ohio, fast-feeder said today Mr. Rowden has resigned for "personal reasons" and will be returning to his native Australia with his family. In the meantime, Wendy's said it will conduct an "aggressive national search" to replace Mr. Rowden, who oversaw the company's $435 million account. Spencer Stuart is handling the search.

Drove brand 'reawakening'
"Ian was instrumental in reawakening the Wendy's brand and driving innovation, and he has agreed to work with me to help transition marketing as we search for our next CMO," Wendy's president-CEO, Kerrii Anderson, said in a statement. "We wish Ian and his family well in the future."

Mr. Rowden was unavailable for comment.

Paul Kershisnik, senior VP-marketing strategy and innovation, and Bob Holtcamp, VP-brand management, will helm Wendy's marketing in the interim, reporting directly to Ms. Anderson. Mr. Kershisnik has previously worked with Pizza Hut, General Mills, and Mrs. Fields. Mr. Holtcamp has a background in frozen seafood products, including Van de Kamp and Mrs. Paul's Seafood; he also worked at Miller Brewing Co.

Wendy's said it will continue to work with agencies Saatchi & Saatchi, which created the burger chain's red-wig campaign, and Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners.

Ditched 'Mr. Wendy'
Wendy's has had several changes in strategy under the tenure of Mr. Rowden, who joined in January 2004 and took over as CMO that summer. In the bleak period following the passing of founder Dave Thomas, he eschewed the unpopular "Mr. Wendy" and ushered in breakfast service. He faced a franchisee revolt in April 2006, following 15 months of same-store sales declines (rival McDonald's strong resurgence occurred during the same period).

Then in January of this year, he moved the account from longtime agency McCann Erickson to Saatchi. Under Saatchi, the franchisees got what they wanted: a new ad campaign. The spots, featuring men in red wigs shouting that they deserve a "hot, juicy burger," helped spark six consecutive quarters of sales growth.

Even so, the increases are dwindling. Third-quarter same-store sales were up only 0.2% compared to a 4.1% increase in the year-earlier period. In the first three quarters of 2007, same-store sales increased an average of 1.5%. October and November same-store sales won't be available until next month.

And not everyone was thrilled with the campaign. Melinda Lou Thomas, better known as "Wendy," slammed the ads in The Wall Street Journal, and Dave Thomas' widow, Lorraine, publicly called for Mr. Rowden's ouster. At the time, Mr. Rowden said he was focusing on the customer and that "everything else is just noise."

More of the same
In the company's press release, Ms. Anderson said to expect more of the same style of marketing.

"We will take the success of our 'That's Right' campaign and expand it to include more back-to-basics messages that are at the heart of Wendy's positioning -- quality, fresh food, innovation and a great consumer experience," she said. "We will evolve our marketing efforts to drive sales and resonate more powerfully with our customers, franchisees and employees."

The company is still for sale. But there have been some snags. Activist investor Nelson Peltz, whose Triarc owns Arby's, has been pegged as the likely candidate for a takeover. But his most recent offer of $37 a share was significantly lower than the $41 Triarc initially indicated it would pay.

Mr. Peltz did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

In the meantime, Wendy's has been working feverishly to drive up the company's sale price. Ms. Anderson admitted that "store economics are not where they need to be."

"We have more opportunity to drive sales, innovate with our superior quality positioning and further improve restaurant operations," she said.
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