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Olive Garden Ends 30-Year Agency Relationship With Grey, Hires Mcgarrybowen

Since 1986, chain grew from 4 locations to 800+

Mcgarrybowen will immediately begin handling lead creative duties for the chain.

With just four locations, Olive Garden barely even qualified as a chain of restaurants when it began working with Grey in 1986. Now, after growing to more than 800 locations, the brand is bringing that relationship to an end.

Mcgarrybowen proved the victor in the chain's three-month review, marking the end of an era for incumbent Grey, which has been connected to the brand since just a few years after the restaurant's founding.

"Though we met with immensely talented agencies, mcgarrybowen's proven track record of creatively bringing brands to life across multiple channels within the retail and hospitality industries makes them the ideal partner," said Jose Duenas, evp of marketing at Olive Garden, in a statement. "We're excited to work with mcgarrybowen to continue to build the Olive Garden brand and showcase what we are best known for—bringing families together over craveable Italian food—in new and exciting ways."

Mcgarrybowen will assume lead creative responsibilities immediately, with the account being run out of its Chicago office.

"Olive Garden is a famous and beloved brand that we are thrilled to be working with," said Ned Crowley, chief creative officer of mcgarrybowen Chicago. "We look forward to working together to take the brand and business to new heights."

Grey will retain some work with parent company Darden Restaurants through its LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

"We respect Olive Garden's desire to try something new and wish them nothing but success on their future journey," Michael Houston, CEO of Grey North America, said.  "We remain a member of the Darden family as we continue to build the LongHorn brand, its second largest and fastest growing."

In announcing this summer that Grey would defend the account, Duenas had praised the agency as a "tremendous partner and has played an important part in helping build the Olive Garden brand."

However, the agency's long tenure and pitching efforts weren't enough to retain the client in the review, handled by Pile and Company.

In a memo to his staff, Houston described the lengthy relationship between the two businesses: 

"Olive Garden and Grey found each other in 1986. Olive Garden was a tiny restaurant chain with big dreams. Grey was an agency looking to break new ground in the food category. Together over the next decade, we introduced much of America to Italian food and in 1988, we coined the word 'Hospitaliano,' putting Olive Garden on a course for uninterrupted growth quarter after quarter for almost 15 consecutive years. In our three decades together, Olive Garden has grown from four restaurants to more than 800. We've weathered multiple recessions, yet we always bounced back stronger than before."

Houston said he was proud of his team's emotional pitch work, which "literally brought multiple clients to tears." After the presentation, he said he told the pitch team, "Regardless of outcome, we can all feel proud of ourselves and the agency because we've honestly given them everything we have to give."

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