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Fast-food marketing whiz Kyle Craig's decision to fly KFC's coop and roost at Boston Chicken puts some meat behind the upstart chain's sizzle.

Mr. Craig, who in the past year helped overhaul struggling KFC Corp. as it introduced rotisserie chicken, said he's attracted to the entrepreneurial spirit at Boston Chicken.

"They have a very progressive management style," Mr. Craig said. "They operate in a very fluid manner. There are no functional lines."

Boston Chicken is expanding its executive team to six from five members with Mr. Craig's arrival. He will handle marketing and product development; VP-Marketing F. Warren Ellish, who reported to Vice Chairman Jeffry Shearer, now reports to Mr. Craig.

The 46-year-old executive, who was exec VP-worldwide marketing at Burger King Corp. when the famous "Battle of the Burgers" campaign broke in the early 1980s, has a long history of toiling to turn large companies around. Now, Mr. Craig said, he'd like to help build a growing company.

Several Boston Chicken executives know Mr. Craig. Messrs. Shearer and Craig worked in various posts at S&A Restaurant Corp., which owned 400 Steak & Ale and Bennigan's, for 10 years. Boston Chicken Chief Financial Office Mark Stephens said since its inception, the company has had "an informal dialogue" with Mr. Craig.

Mr. Craig joined PepsiCo, which owns KFC, in 1989 as assistant to the chairman. He moved to KFC USA as president the next year. Last fall, he became president of brand development at the request of KFC CEO John Cranor, who wanted the superstar to concentrate on the chain's flagging sales.

Last year, Mr. Craig and KFC's marketing and new-product executives introduced the Colonel's Rotisserie Gold with $50 million in advertising. Rotisserie chicken boosted fourth quarter same-store sales by 10% compared with the previous year, vs. losses of 2% to 7% for the first three quarters of 1993.

Manny Goldman, an analyst at Paine Webber, San Francisco, estimated the menu addition will help raise KFC's 1994 operating income by 20%.

Mr. Craig starting today will commute from Louisville, Ky., to Boston Chicken's headquarters in Naperville, Ill. He will move his family to Boulder, Colo., when the company moves its headquarters in September.

A new KFC spot this month from Young & Rubicam, New York, challenges the "superior taste claims of regional chains" like Boston Chicken and Kenny Rogers Roasters, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a KFC spokesman said. Without directly mentioning competitors, the TV commercial uses customer testimonials to focus on the taste of Rotisserie Gold.

KFC and Boston Chicken say they have different target audiences; the KFC spokesman said the company's Rotisserie Gold customers are regular fast-food consumers, while Boston Chicken positions itself as an alternative to home cooking.

While KFC is taking a new ad tactic, Boston Chicken is dealing with its own ad dilemma. After being approached by Leap Partnership, a Chicago creative boutique formed last year by ex- DDB Needham Worldwide creatives, Boston Chicken's Mr. Shearer hired the shop to produce what Mr. Ellish called "motivational" videos, to be used in-house.

The four 30-second spots, however, look like commercials-putting Boston Chicken's agency of record, Bayer Bess Vanderwarker, in an awkward spot.

Mr. Stephens said the chain hasn't decided what to do with the work from Leap. A source close to the company said the chain may decide to test the ads in one market.

Unified under the tagline "It's not as good as Mom's. It's better," the five spots, which cost Boston Chicken roughly $200,000, are very different from Bayer Bess' "The freshest thing going" campaign.

The Leap work is irreverently funny. One ad shows a family piling in the car to visit grandma on the way to Boston Chicken; the family zooms right by grandma, who is waiting for them on her front lawn, and drives on to Boston Chicken.

When Bayer Bess first won the $25 million to $30 million account, Boston Chicken wanted the agency to try some humorous ads. The agency presented the requested material but also recommended Boston Chicken use the "Freshest thing going" campaign.

Mr. Ellish said Boston Chicken is very happy with Bayer Bess' work and remains committed to the agency.

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