Starcom Takes Olive Garden, Red Lobster, LongHorn Media Business

Publicis Shop Nets Nearly $300 Million Account

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NEW YORK ( -- Darden Restaurants has awarded its media-planning and -buying accounts for its Red Lobster, Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse brands to Publicis Groupe's Starcom. The review kicked off in mid-September and included Darden's incumbent agencies, WPP's MediaCom and Starcom sibling Zenith. The combined accounts total nearly $300 million.

Red Lobster's media account was previously split between two shops. The independently-owned Richards Group handled planning and Zenith managed buying. Zenith also handled buying for Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse. WPP's MediaCom managed planning for Olive Garden.

Boston-based consultant Pile & Co. managed the review.

According to Kantar Media, Darden in 2009 spent $119 million on domestic measured media for Red Lobster, $161 million on Olive Garden and $13 million on LongHorn Steakhouse. Darden's other brands include Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52.

This summer, Darden handed creative duties on its $120 million Red Lobster account to WPP's Grey after a review. Richards Group was the incumbent, but in keeping with its policy to not defend business, did not participate in the pitch.

In March, the company named John Caron, former exec VP-marketing for Olive Garden, the first CMO of Darden Restaurants. When asked why the company was reviewing its media assignments, a spokesperson cited a press release, which Darden issued when Mr. Caron was named CMO, that spoke about creating an optimal marketing structure and organization for the future. In the release, Drew Madsen, Darden's chief operating officer, said: "We created this position with an eye toward establishing a marketing structure that enables stronger integration, greater innovation and accelerated growth across all of the Darden brands."

According to the company, its portfolio of six brands generate some $7.2 billion in annual sales and have nearly 180,000 employees combined.

While this is the first high-profile pitch that Starcom has won in some time, back in May Mars Inc.'s Wrigley shifted media-buying duties to Starcom from sibling MediaVest. That shift ended a long new-business drought for the agency, which last December lost the North American communications planning duties for Gillette's men's grooming business to Aegis' Carat.

Zenith recently won the $80 million Travelocity account. MediaCom most recently lost the $130 million Diageo account and the $40 million Lifetime Entertainment and $25 million JetBlue accounts. But it also managed to pick up the $100 million Revlon and $100 million Travelers accounts.

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