Lowe Back in Win Column With Darden

Interpublic Group’s Lowe has joined Darden Restaurants’ roster, landing creative and media duties for Smokey Bones Barbecue & Grill, the company’s fastest-growing chain.

Lowe is Smokey Bones’ first agency, and the win is the shop’s first under new president Susan Cantor, who led the pitch with chairman Gary Goldsmith. It is also the New York agency’s first win in 10 months.

The Orlando, Fla.-based client hired the shop following a review. Havas’ McKinney + Silver in Raleigh, N.C., was the other finalist, said Greg Watson, client svp of marketing. Billings are still being determined, but the plan includes regional TV, print and radio ads and guerrilla marketing efforts, Watson said. (Smokey Bones operates in 18 states.)

Watson was impressed by Lowe’s ability to craft positionings that connect with consumers and corporations, such as “We are professional grade” for GMC, an account Cantor oversees. “They developed a positioning that speaks to consumers, employees and dealers. They really get the retail environment,” Watson said.

Since opening in 1999, Smokey Bones has doubled in size each year. It now operates 62 restaurants and plans to open 25-30 more annually en route to becoming a national player within two years, said Watson. Red Lobster, now in review, is Darden’s biggest chain, with 680 restaurants, followed by Olive Garden (handled by Grey) with 534.