Papa John's Picks Laundry Service as Its New Creative Agency

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Credit: Papa John's

Papa John's has made a somewhat surprising pick for its new creative agency: Laundry Service, following a non-traditional review process that began late this summer.

Chief Marketing Officer Brandon Rhoten sent a note to about 10 agencies and holding companies seeking a new creative partner, ultimately bringing the pitch to eight.

Rhoten has said he wants Papa John's, the nation's fourth-largest pizza chain, to stand out in what has become a commoditized pizza category. Plus, as Papa John's puts more emphasis on digital ordering and social media, it was eager to find a creative team that could enhance the company's effectiveness in those areas.

With 60 percent of Papa John's business happening online, Rhoten wanted an agency partner that thoroughly understands areas such as digital, e-commerce, and social, or as he put it, "the new world of marketing that's not new anymore." Laundry Service, he said, was one of the few agencies that pitched starting with the brand's audience rather than starting with TV or other platforms.

"They just think about content and content distribution in a thoroughly modern and progressive way," Rhoten said. "They start with the audience in mind instead of starting with the medium in mind."

The new partnership was announced on Twitter Tuesday, including tweets from Rhoten.

Soon, Laundry Service founder Jason Stein followed with a few messages including a series of emoji meant to explain the big account win.

Laundry Service starts Jan. 1. Details of upcoming campaigns were not shared but Papa John's Founder John Schnatter will most likely continue to appear in the work, Rhoten said.

For now, Papa John's is busy with the end of the Major League Baseball season and the ongoing National Football League season, as a sponsor of both leagues. As far as the NFL goes, ratings have declined this season but the games remain some of the most watched programming on TV.

"Ratings impact everything we do," Rhoten said, adding that the NFL has been a good partner for the brand in the past. Still, the chain has started to shift some of its marketing to make sure it's connecting with people in the right place at the right time, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and elsewhere.

"Reach is becoming less of the priority and impact is becoming more of the priority," he said, quick to add that Papa John's will continue to spend time and effort with the NFL, MLB and anyone "with significant reach."

For Laundry Service, the whe win comes a few weeks after it signed a deal with ESPN to collaborate on branded digital content and original programming for the sports giant's advertisers and a day after Ad Age published a profile on its founder, Jason Stein.

Laundry Service, which started as an "internet video company" in 2011, now counts the likes of Twitter, Grubhub, Anheuser-Busch InBev's Bud Light and Michelob Ultra among its clients. It also has seen clients such as T-Mobile, LG, Jordan Brand and Freixenet increasingly looking to repurpose the agency's work from digital to the more traditional creative areas of TV, print, out-of-home and more.

"We're an e-commerce brand – it's time we stop thinking in TV scripts," Rhoten said in a statement. "Laundry Service's take on content aligns to where we want to go as a brand, and we couldn't be more excited to choose this young, digital-first agency as our new creative partner." Laundry Service starts Jan. 1.

While Laundry Service and BMW will part ways at the end of this year, the agency alluded to more automotive work coming onboard by saying in a statement that it looks forward to "exciting updates regarding our work in the auto space" in January.

The agency is currently on track to notch about $72 million in revenue for 2017 (up from $45.5 million last year) and is sitting on $150 million in capital for acquisitions.

Rhoten joined Papa John's in May from Wendy's, where he helped that chain grow its social presence with efforts such as the Nuggs for Carter phenomenon earlier this year.

For media, Papa John's works primarily with Initiative, an agency Rhoten has done some work with in the past. Papa John's is happy with Initiative, though it may potentially move some of its media to Laundry Service after it has a chance to evaluate the agency creatively, Rhoten said.

Edelman is the chain's current PR shop. Grey, the incumbent agency, participated in the review, as did Grey's parent company WPP. Grey declined to comment.

Before Grey won the creative account in 2014, it had been handled by ZGroup, a unit of Zimmerman.

Papa John's total U.S. ad spending rose 4.3 percent to $235 million in 2016, according to the Ad Age Datacenter.

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