Applebee’s Picks Grey as Its Third Agency of Record in Less Than 2 Years

Chain named a new president earlier this month

The struggling chain named a new president last week.

Grey has become Applebee’s third creative agency of record in less than two years.

The chain, which identifies itself as “America’s largest casual dining brand,” picked Grey after a review that began last December, with a whopping 26 agencies responding to the initial RFP. Subsequent rounds cut the number of competing shops to six, with Grey beating BBDO San Francisco and Argonaut to win the business. The WPP network’s New York and Los Angeles offices will manage the account.

According to the latest numbers from Kantar Media, Applebee’s spent approximately $150 million on paid media in the U.S. last year.

“We couldn’t be more excited to begin working with Grey,” said Jeannine D’Addario, interim svp of marketing and culinary at Applebee’s who joined the company last summer after leading marketing and communications for Whole Foods. “In addition to their deep experience, capability and creativity, the team at Grey has a solid understanding of Applebee’s evolving consumer, the brand’s legacy and our goals to ignite change and deliver original and compelling work.”

Applebee’s and parent company DineEquity have been toying with the chain’s advertising efforts for some time. The client split with former AOR Crispin Porter + Bogusky in November 2015, citing a desire to “transform the marketing and advertising direction of the brand” and picking Kansas City’s Barkley to handle those efforts. One year and one wood-fired steak relaunch later, the business went through another review with the press release again stating that “Applebee’s felt the time was right to make a creative shift given the evolving restaurant landscape.”

DineEquity also named longtime restaurant industry veteran John Cywinski as Applebee’s new president earlier this month. The news marked a return for Cywinski, who previously served as Applebee’s CMO from 2001 to 2006 and led the “Eatin’ Good in the Neighborhood” campaign created by FCB Chicago before leaving to hold similar positions at KFC and Chili’s parent company Brinker International Inc.

The parent company’s stock took a hit last December around the very time news of this latest review broke. At the time, analysts questioned DineEquity’s ability to counter “sluggish traffic and menu misfires at Applebee’s” caused, in part, by over-saturation as fewer guests visit each franchise location.

“We will be responsible for creative development, market strategy and brand positioning, crafting engaging campaigns that resonate with their customers nationally. Our integrated communications effort will launch in July,” wrote Grey New York CEO Debby Reiner in an internal memo sent to the whole staff this morning. She then congratulated, “all who worked so tirelessly on this,” citing today’s news and Grey’s role in a new $600 million global contract between WPP and Walgreen’s Boots Alliance as “proof we are at the top of our game.”

The chief executive concluded, “We’ll celebrate after the blizzard.”

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