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IHOP's $30 Mil.-Plus Creative Account Is Adrift

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The status of IHOP Corp.'s creative account is uncertain following a split between the restaurant chain and its agency, Heil-Brice Retail Advertising. The client may be ex ploring placing its $30 million-plus ac count into review, sources said.

In December, Julia Stewart was named president and COO of the Glendale, Calif.-based company. She joined from restaurant chain Applebee's, where she was president. Stewart is also a former national vp of Taco Bell Corp.'s franchise and license division.

"Since the change in top management, we have been unable to come to terms with [IHOP],'' said agency president and executive creative director Hal Brice, whose shop has handled the 1,017-unit chain since January 2000.

"It was just a matter of time with a new president coming in," said a source about the breakup, adding that the client will probably launch a review because "it's the logical thing to do." IHOP has indicated it is considering a search, said another executive.

An IHOP rep declined comment. Stewart was unavailable for comment.

Sources said the challenge for a shop working with IHOP is dealing with its franchisees, who are vocal about their dissatisfaction with marketing material from headquarters. "The franchisees want to show the food and the deals," said one source.

Brice stressed that the work has been well-received by franchisees. "We helped move the brand forward,'' he said. For its ads, Heil-Brice inherited and continued the tagline, "Any time's a good time for IHOP." TV spots generally featured family-themed vignettes that wrapped with a trip to the restaurant.

Prior to hiring Heil-Brice, IHOP worked with Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners for less than a year.

The majority of the pancake-specialist chain's media planning and buying business is handled by Horizon Media, Los Angeles, with the balance done by small consultants and regional shops around the country. IHOP's media relationships are not affected by the decision to part company with Heil-Bruce, sources said.