Darden Reviews Media for LongHorn Steakhouse, Olive Garden

Publicis' Starcom is the Incumbent

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Darden has begun a review of its media agency business for its two largest brands, Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse.

"It is good business practice to evaluate agency relationships every three to five years, and we believe it's the right time with regards to our media partner for Olive Garden and LongHorn," a Darden spokesman said in an e-mail.

Incumbent Starcom won a consolidation pitch for the Red Lobster, Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse brands in 2010. Starcom sibling Spark currently handles media for Red Lobster, which Darden sold last summer. Spark and Starcom are part of the Publicis Groupe-owned Starcom Mediavest Group Network.

"We greatly value our relationship with Starcom and are inviting them to participate in the process," the spokesman said. "They know our business well and we expect them to respond competitively."

Starcom referred inquiries to the client.

The company, which also owns Seasons 52 and the Capital Grille, among others, spent $172.74 million on measured media in the U.S. between January and September of last year, according to Kantar Media's most recent available spending data. Olive Garden accounted for the bulk -- about $140 million -- of that total spend.

Darden last summer completed the sale of its Red Lobster brand to private-equity firm Golden Gate Capital for $2.1 billion, responding to pressure from an activist hedge fund trying to boost the stock price.

Darden's CEO stepped down this past October and was succeeded on an interim basis by Eugene Lee.

Matt Park, previously CMO for Red Lobster, was named CMO for Darden Restaurants in January 2014, but he has since left the company. Jose Duenas is exec VP of marketing for Olive Garden, and John Fadool is the exec VP of marketing for LongHorn.

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