With Deutsch on Board, CiCi’s Aims for Bigger Impact

Years before he became chief marketing officer of regional upstart CiCi’s Pizza, Tom Koenigsberg knew about the restaurant’s value.

“I had two young kids and not a lot of money,” he said. “I’d write out a check for exactly $13.92 before going out [to CiCi’s], stick two bucks in my pocket for the kids to play games, and everyone was happy. It solved a real problem in my life.”

Affordability is a position Koenigsberg and his new agency, Deutsch/LA in Marina del Rey, Calif., want to promote to a larger audience as the chain—which features an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet, typically for $3.99—looks to increase its profile in a crowded category.

Interpublic Group’s Deutsch was awarded the estimated $15 million account last month without a review thanks to its relationship with Koenigsberg, who until last November held a similar post with Deutsch client TGI Friday’s.

Koenigsberg wanted to hire the shop when it pitched Friday’s two years ago, but said he was overruled by his CEO, who preferred IPG’s McCann-Erickson. He was able to give Deutsch the business under a new CEO last September before he left for Coppell, Texas-based CiCi’s.

“Deutsch approaches things differently,” Koenigsberg said. “They have a real commitment to creative based on teasing consumer insights out with account planners and executing that creative.”

Privately held CiCi’s, with 474 restaurants mostly in the Southeast, was the 10th-largest pizza chain in the U.S. in 2002, the latest year that figures were available from restaurant consultancy Technomic. Its 2002 domestic sales were $334 million, according to Technomic.

No. 1 Pizza Hut is a $5 billion company with 7,600 units, but after the top four chains, the category tightens. Fifth-place Chuck E. Cheese, for example, was a $682 million company in 2002, according to Technomic.

“We’ve seen stellar growth,” said Koenigsberg. “The opportunity for CiCi’s is to be the most respected restaurant chain in the U.S. by franchisees, investors and customers. The challenge will be getting the right people involved.”

Mike Sheldon, Deutsch/LA’s managing partner and general manager, said new ads—which will launch in May or June, pending a brand-positioning study—will offer “an adequate description of pricing, but that alone isn’t enough.

“What is more powerful is the way you are treated there,” Sheldon said. He cited the chain’s made-to-order pizzas and service, noting that when he was given a tour of one restaurant by company president Craig Moore, the exec cleaned up a kid’s spilled soda and refilled his cup.

Deutsch’s work will mix promotions with image work, Sheldon said. “Koenigsberg’s a big believer in ‘brand-tailing,’ our concept of driving traffic and building the brand at the same time,” he noted.

Koenigsberg said CiCi’s opened 60 restaurants last year and plans to add 70 more in 2004. He said he also expects the marketing budget to increase—during his seven-year tenure at Friday’s, the budget rose from $13 million to $50 million—and that the franchisees will get ad value.

“I just met with some of them who asked, ‘Does [the hiring of Deutsch] mean you want more money now?’ ” he said. “I told them, ‘Let me spend the money you’ve given me and show you that it is working for you. Once I show you that, you’ll want to give me more money.’ “

The account had been in-house, with a straight price strategy under the themes, “Fresh taste at a great price” and “The best pizza value anywhere.” CiCi’s spent about $10 million on ads in 2003, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

Dennis Lombardi, an evp at Technomic, said the pizza business is growing more slowly than other restaurant segments, and CiCi’s price-and-service message is not likely to be unique. “All consumers will be looking for more value, and that’s not limited to restaurants or the pizza segment,” he said. Still, he added, “CiCi’s is … growing at a nice, acceptable, steady pace.”