After Surprise Chick-fil-A Loss, The Richards Group Picks Up Boston Market

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A recent ad for Boston Market's Rotisserie Chicken Marsala.
A recent ad for Boston Market's Rotisserie Chicken Marsala. Credit: Boston Market

Boston Market has brought on The Richards Group as agency of record, bringing the shop back into the fast-casual category after losing longtime client Chick-fil-A this summer.

In July, Chick-fil-A parted ways with The Richards Group after 22 years. The fast-feeder brought on McCann New York, as well as a roster of other agencies to handle marketing.

The Richards Group, which won the Boston Market account after a competitive review, started working on the business last month. The scope of work includes creative, brand and creative strategy and media planning.

"When I got here there was a desire to look through the current agency structure and to review where we stood and to look at other options," said Tim Hartmann, who joined Boston Market as VP-Marketing in May. Mr. Hartmann said that before he came on board there had not been anyone overseeing marketing for a while.

Boston Market had worked with The Zimmerman Agency for six years. The chain handled its agency review process internally and evaluated multiple agencies, which Mr. Hartmann declined to name. Representatives from Zimmerman were not immediately available for comment.

Media buying remains with Midas. There are no plans currently to change significant amounts of media spend going forward, Mr. Hartmann said.

"We were really impressed by the caliber of strategic thinking that The Richards Group demonstrated and we believe they can partner with us to position Boston Market for future growth," Mr. Hartmann said, adding that the agency has a track record of helping build brands and developing powerful creative messaging.

The Richards Group is well known for its "Eat Mor Chikin" cows work for Chick-fil-A. While Chick-fil-A dropped the agency, the cows are still a mainstay of its marketing.

"We are just happy to be back," said Dave Kroencke, principal at The Richards Group. "We love this category of restaurant and retail and its immediacy and we're raring to go."

He added that The Richards Group faced no layoffs after losing Chick-fil-A.

Mr. Kroencke said some media work for Boston Market should come out in the first quarter of 2017, followed by a new campaign for the brand sometime in the second quarter. "We haven't concepted the new campaign idea yet, but as always, we're going to look for an insight we can build an idea around, then execute that consistently across multiple points of contact," he said. About 20 staffers at the agency will work on the Boston Market business.

The account win, Mr. Kroencke said, is a "great example where a previous relationship has worked in our favor" because the agency had worked with Mr. Hartmann in the past when he was at Red Lobster.

One of Boston Market's latest TV commercials debuted at the end of the summer for its limited-time Hand-Crafted Rotisserie Chicken Marsala menu item. The spot focused on the food, featuring close-ups of the chicken.

"Our guests really responded favorably to it," Mr. Hartman said of the recent Chicken Marsala run. "It leveraged the rotisserie chicken dish they already love but provided some new flavor to it. I think going forward that's certainly an option that we'll look to, to continue to expand that and give guests more and more flavor options."

The agency switch comes at a challenging time for the overall restaurant industry. Higher prices at restaurants appear to be pushing more diners to cook at home.

"I think it's a difficult environment in the restaurant industry right now and so I think for us that's one of the big challenges going forward is how to show we're still relevant in today's lifestyle for today's consumers, and we feel we really are," Mr. Hartmann said, pointing out options such as catering and takeout. "That's a big part of the assignment we're going to work with Richards on, is how to help position ourselves and communicate the very meaningful messaging we have to show consumers how we fit into their lives."

Mr. Kroencke said Boston Market is a brand with wonderful history that has faced some business challenges, and the agency wants to help "put them back on their rightful place on the American kitchen table."

Boston Market Corp., based in Golden, Colo., is best known for rotisserie chicken. According to Technomic, sales rose 0.6% to $610 million last year. Boston Market, which has 462 locations, is privately held and does not disclose its results.

Boston Market spent about $10.9 million on measured media in 2015, according to Kantar Media.

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