Chicken Run: El Pollo Loco Goes Into Play | Adweek Chicken Run: El Pollo Loco Goes Into Play | Adweek
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Chicken Run: El Pollo Loco Goes Into Play

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Agencies hungry for new business can start queuing up for a taste of El Pollo Loco.

The client has hired consultancy Select Resources International in Santa Monica, Calif., to lead a review of its $15-20 million account.

Both general market duties and Hispanic marketing are in play.

The incumbent agencies, Krueger Communications (general market) and Cruz/Kravetz:Ideas (Hispanic), have been invited to defend. Krueger said it would not participate.

Both digital and traditional creative chores are up for grabs, with Southern California agencies -- close to the client's Costa Mesa headquarters -- preferred as review participants. A decision is set for the first quarter of 2011.

Mark Hardison, El Pollo Loco's vp, marketing, said he wishes to select a single shop for the assignment.

Media services remains at ID Media and are not part of the process.

The chicken chain has 400 locations, mainly in California and other Western states, but also in markets like Virgina, Georgia and Connecticut.

El Pollo Loco has struggled of late, suffering a nearly $12.5 million loss for the first nine months of 2010, though that was an improvement from the loss of $30 million it endured in the same time frame in '09. The company notched operating revenue of $207 million during the first nine months, a 2 percent dip from the same period in '09. Same-store sales are down almost 5 percent this year.

The relatively low-profile niche player -- outspent ad-wise by many rivals and eclipsed by giants like KFC -- finds itself battling in a market where recession-weary consumers have become more finicky about where they spend their money.

In fact, the entire restaurant category has been volatile all year. Darden recently concluded a review for its $300 million U.S. media account, which was awarded to Starcom. Other chains large and small have also shifted agencies and/or launched major campaigns. Some notable moves include Red Lobster hiring WPP's Grey and Denny's selecting IPG's Gotham after separate reviews of creative chores this summer. Sonic and Arby's are currently in play.

El Pollo Loco presents more of a turnaround job than most of those others. But plenty of shops -- especially midsize and smaller firms with fast-food and retail experience -- would savor putting the integrated, cross-cultural creative assignment on their plates.