Applebee's Hands Media Account to Universal McCann

Moves Duties From Starcom in Cost-Efficiency Consolidation Play

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NEW YORK ( -- Applebee's has moved its $150 million-plus media planning and buying account from Publicis Groupe's Starcom to Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann without a review, the company said. Following the example of other major advertisers, Applebee's is taking the route of consolidation for more cost efficiencies.

The fast-casual chain is the latest to consolidate accounts.
The fast-casual chain is the latest to consolidate accounts.

Applebee's, the largest player in the casual-dining space, already works with Universal McCann sibling McCann Erickson on the creative side. Patrick Lenow, executive director-communications for Dine Equity, parent company to Applebee's and IHOP, which also works with Universal McCann, said the company consolidated its media and creative responsibilities as a way to capitalize on opportunities in the market while creating more cost efficiencies.

"We thought there were good opportunities in the marketplace by bringing creative and media buying under the single [McCann] banner," Mr. Lenow said. "We appreciate the work Starcom has done for us and we think it will be a smooth transition over the next 90 days."

"We are delighted to be adding such a well-recognized brand as Applebee's to our roster of New York clients," said Universal McCann's North American president, Jacki Kelley. "In partnership with McCann, we see this as an opportunity to better serve Applebee's and are privileged to work with such an engaged group of franchisees. Having worked with IHOP in Los Angeles since 1996, we are excited to expand our relationship with Dine Equity with one more of their divisions."

Mr. Lenow said that pricing was not a factor in the company's decision.

Along with Omnicom Group's OMD, Universal McCann has been one of the busiest shops this year in terms of collecting new business. Since May, the agency has won the $40 million Dyson account, BMW's media-planning and -buying business and the $100 million-plus Charles Schwab planning-and-buying account. The agency retained its media-buying chores for insurance and financial services provider Nationwide during that time as well.

In November of last year Applebee's brought Rebeca Johnson aboard as senior VP-marketing. IHOP purchased Applebee's for $2.1 billion in July of 2007. Applebee's, not unlike its competitors, has struggled some since the time of the IHOP acquisition, but recent same-store sales improvements have led some experts to speculate that the sector may be staging a recovery. In recent months Applebee's has put a greater focus on value-deal offerings, such as two entrees and an appetizer for $20.

Universal referred calls to the client.

Starcom, which has worked with Applebee's since 2005, confirmed the departure and said the agency "remains proud of the work it did with Applebee's and wishes them well."

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Emily Bryson York contributed to this report.

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