Former Saveur Publisher Launches Foodie-Focused Ad Shop

Merri Lee Kingsly Helms New Agency 'Palate'

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Merri Lee Kingsly
Merri Lee Kingsly
In the past year, prominent agency execs have defected to the publishing world -- such as former Digitas CEO Laura Lang's move to Time Inc. and the surprise news last month that former Hill Holliday exec Baba Shetty is headed to Newsweek Daily Beast.

Now comes the inverse.

Longtime publishing exec Merri Lee Kingsly, who most recently served as publisher at Saveur, is set to launch a food-focused agency.

The name of the new agency is Palate, and it will be launched in New York as a spinoff of full-service agency FKM, which is based in Texas. Palate will be dedicated to helping food and beverage brands capitalize on emerging trends.

It's a move that comes as adland settles into a new era of specialization. That's made the ad business a breeding ground for all sorts of shops focused on narrow disciplines or business sectors; among them are Made Movement, the Boulder, Colo., agency focused on U.S. manufacturing companies, and Senior Creative People, which specializes in advertising geared toward older consumers.

Ms. Kingsly brings a couple decades' worth of experience working with food companies, chefs and restaurants -- plus she spent a great deal of time partnering with agencies while on the publishing side.

But, as she bluntly told Ad Age : "I've been calling on agency people for 25 years, but I never thought I would become one."

The decision to launch Palate came about after a reorganization at Saveur that led to Ms. Kingsly consulting with food brands to build web content for passionate consumers that went beyond recipes. Earlier in her career, Ms. Kingsly had worked at Bon Appetit and Food & Wine. She is a certified pastry chef, and a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and Syracuse University.

After meeting with Ms. Kingsly, FKM came to the realization that , as the shop's president and chief creative officer Scott Brown tells it, they "wanted to build an offering that was unique to the food and beverage category."

FKM and Ms. Kingsly say that Palate won't operate like a typical agency partner. Given Ms. Kingsly's contacts, rather than hire layers of account managers or subject experts, the shop has created an alliance with top chefs, mixologists, sommeliers and marketers that will help spot new trends and consult on marketing ideas. "It's a new form of research and account planning," said Mr. Brown, who believes the approach is "a faster form of learning than traditional research that will allow brands to jump on emerging opportunities."

The execs added that the shop will focus not only on striking up direct-to-brand relationships, but it will consult with other agencies.

The full list of Palate's alliance contains nearly 40 representatives from all over the country -- such as top restaurateurs from the Breakers in Palm Beach to Jean Georges in New York to O-Ya in Boston -- because Ms. Kingsly believes food trends are often local.

What's in it for them? The restaurateurs are paid consultant fees by Palate to serve as part of the alliance, so it's an opportunity to expand their personal brands, and possibly do menu consulting for large restaurant chains and become spokespeople for brands.

While Palate is not launching with any clients, it's in two reviews, and at least one food brand on FKM's roster -- which includes Bertolli olive oil and Graeter's ice cream -- is expected to shift to Palate.

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