Blimpie’s Mears to Wait on Agency Decision

ATLANTA Blimpie International’s new chief marketing officer, Mark Mears, said he will hold off on assigning an ad agency.

Mears joined the Atlanta restaurant chain last month following a stint as svp/CMO at SwatTeam Partners, a marketing consultancy in Dallas. There, his client list included EDS, Dean Foods and Radio Shack.

“My role is to be the hub, to surround myself with the…best resources to help accomplish goals in each facet,” said Mears.

Blimpie in February 2002 hired The Kaplan Thaler Group in New York to handle its then-$10-15 million account, but ad spending shrunk to $5 million the same year. Last year, the company spent about $2 million, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus. The client and agency parted ways in mid-2003.

With 1,600 restaurants, Blimpie trails sandwich leader Subway, which has 20,000 locations, as well as No. 2 Quizno’s, which has 2,200 restaurants.

Mears said Blimpie president and CEO Jeff Endervelt pulled away from national advertising in order to revamp stores, upgrade its menu and focus on promotions.

To that end, the chain relies on a network of small Dallas agencies including Downtown Partners Dallas, an Omnicom Group shop; Razor/Competitive Edge, for print coupons and local radio planning; and Spot Plus, for media buying. Other roster shops are Atlanta interactive agency Studio Com and public relations firm Madison-Envoy in West Palm Beach, Fla.

“We don’t want to jump on TV just to jump on TV,” said Mears. “The message has to be based on a solid brand positioning. We’re in the process of developing that now.”

The franchise will eventually return to national advertising, Mears said.

In the meantime, Blimpie aims to drive incremental-traffic guest checks up via promotions, price values and products such as the Cuban combo—a sandwich with black bean soup and Sierra Mist. The item is tied with the movie Havana Nights, a dance movie set in 1950s Cuba. “Hot Havana Nights” is the name of a sweepstakes being used to promote the combo.

Additionally, the company has switched beverage vendors from Coca-Cola to Pepsi and has partnered with Wal-Mart and Frontier Airlines to sell sandwiches, soups and salads. Mears said the private company also is in talks with Delta Air Lines.

Mears’ corporate experience includes six years with Pizza Hut/PepsiCo and JCPenney. Mears, who has a degree in journalism/advertising from the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in integrated marketing communications from Northwestern University, has spent time at agencies as well. He worked at Leo Burnett in Chicago. In Dallas, his resume included stints at Bozell, TLP, Promotional Partners Worldwide, TIC TOC, and Brann.