Papa John’s hires (yet another) new top marketer as turnaround takes hold
Papa John’s is once again bringing in a new top marketer as it tries to boost its turnaround efforts.
Max Wetzel, the former VP of consumer brands and chief transformation officer at PPG Industries, is joining Papa John’s in the new dual role of chief commercial and marketing officer, as of Nov. 18.
The appointment was one of a few executive moves announced Wednesday. Karlin Linhardt, who had been named Papa John’s global chief marketing officer in March, will be departing the company. Lindhardt had filled a role that was vacant for nearly a year after the departure of Brandon Rhoten, who was with Papa John's for only a year.
CEO Rob Lynch says he worked earlier in his career at H.J. Heinz with Wetzel, whose new role is expanded from Lindhardt's brief mandate. Wetzel will oversee marketing, along with menu strategy, product innovation, customer experience and a new project management office, Papa John’s said.
It’s been a tumultuous two years for Papa John’s, since Founder John Schnatter spoke out during a quarterly conference call, blaming the NFL for weak results, and later was found to use a racial slur on a media training call.
Now, the company’s executive suite and trajectory are decidedly different under the management of Lynch, who joined in August. For one thing, comparable sales in North America returned to positive territory for the first time in two years, with third-quarter same-store sales up 1 percent.
Lynch, who came to Papa John’s after serving as president of Arby’s, was upbeat and frank on his first quarterly call with analysts Wednesday.
“We’ve begun to turn the corner on last year’s challenges,” Lynch said.
His plans include everything from this week’s introduction of a garlic parmesan crust—the first time Papa John’s has tinkered with its dough in company history—to working with more third-party delivery services, a decidedly different approach from leading pizza chain Domino’s. And he said franchisees are much more positive about the chain’s situation than he would have expected them to be, given everything they’ve been through recently.
In August, weeks before Lynch joined, Papa John’s selected its latest creative agency, Camp & King, after parting ways with Endeavor Global Marketing after only one year.
Lynch says he is encouraged by the marketing that’s been done in recent months, including a brand-building campaign featuring board member Shaquille O’Neal. He also praised the new marketing promoting the garlic parmesan crust, calling the photography used cutting edge and saying “there is no advertising like it in the category.”
Papa John’s so far has contributed $7.5 million to marketing, including $5 million in the third quarter, as part of its previously announced plan to support franchisees with a total of $40 million on marketing into 2020 as the company works on its recovery.
Papa John’s narrowed its North American comparable sales forecast for the year. It now expects such sales to be down 1.5 percent to 3.5 percent, after previously envisioning a decline of 1 percent to 4 percent.
The 1 percent increase in third-quarter comparable North American sales "provides a promising outlook for a quick turnaround," Stifel analyst Chris O'Cull wrote in a note to investors. "Indeed, this sales lift was generated even on what we would consider 'brand-building' advertising featuring new spokesman Shaquille O'Neal, which ran this quarter. This result is encouraging should the company switch to advertisements with a greater "call to action," O'Cull wrote.