Chick-fil-A Drops The Richards Group After More Than 2 Decades

McCann New York will be the chain's lead agency

Fast-food chain Chick-fil-A has dropped The Richards Group as its longtime creative agency of record after 22 years in favor of a multi-agency roster including McCann Worldgroup and Erich & Kallman, an independent shop recently launched by veterans of Goodby Silverstein & Partners and Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

Chick-fil-A representatives did not immediately reply to requests for comment. Sources tell Adweek that agency founder Stan Richards made the announcement in an all-staff meeting this morning.

"After 22 years of partnership of course we are sad to say goodbye, but we have a lot to be proud of," Richards said in a statement. "We never would have guessed that Chick-fil-A would pass KFC as the No. 1 chicken chain in the country. … That's something both Chick-fil-A and The Richards Group did together."

"When Steve Robinson retired as the only CMO we had ever worked with, and then David Salyers was replaced as vice president, we had a sense things would go in a different direction," Richards continued. "That said, we believe that brand is a promise. It's not a logo, a founder, a CMO, or an ad agency. It should be bigger than all of that. This is a brand we love. And have loved for a very long time. We will continue to love it long after its stewardship has left this building."

"This is a great opportunity and a very exciting time to be working with Chick-Fil-A as they grow and expand their business nationwide," said McCann North America president Chris Macdonald. McCann New York will be the lead agency on brand strategy across the Chick-fil-A business moving forward.

Erich & Kallman also won project-based work for the brand in a six-agency pitch. Its first work for Chick-fil-A debuts today and highlights the chain's new Egg White Grill breakfast sandwich, marking the chain's first departure from its signature cow campaign in more than two decades. Agency co-founder and creative director Eric Kallman says, "The campaign is a really fun way to go right at the inherent tension, as choosing chicken for breakfast isn't an obvious option to many right now."

The ads star a series of historical figures, with the first focusing on Beethoven.

Additional spots feature such famous names as Amelia Earhart, Susan B. Anthony, Michelangelo and Alexander Graham Bell.

Chick-fil-A hired The Richards Group in 1994 to help the brand compete with big burger chains. The challenge presented to the agency at the time was to make an eye-catching campaign without spending the hefty budget that most of the brand's competitors had access to. Chick-fil-A also wanted the agency to use billboards that featured some sort of three-dimensional component as the cornerstone of its advertising.

After working through its first iterations of 3D billboards that featured product shots, The Richards Group finally debuted its first cow-focused work in 1995, starring two 3D cows—one sitting on top of the other—painting "Eat Mor Chikin" for the world to see.

Throughout the 22-year relationship, The Richards Group continued developing cow billboard creative for every occasion, from holidays to political events, eventually expanding into television in 1997. Together, the two companies continued to build out the cow empire with a line of cow calendars, which debuted in 1998, and its massively popular cow-focused social media accounts, including a Facebook page with over 700,000 followers.

The Richards Group's Rob VanGroden, a principal on the Chick-fil-A account, previously told Adweek that the key to the success of the campaign rested on the cows themselves. "The cows are a great story, and what makes a story interesting is conflict. Within a story, when the conflict is resolved, the story is over. With the cows, the conflict is never resolved. People root for the low-status character, and the cows are low status. They're the underdog."

Regarding the cows, Richards said today, "The cows are core to the brand's success and certainly we are protective of them—we think we know them pretty well having given birth to and nurtured their unique personalities for more than two decades. We hope the cows live on and continue to thrive with a new family."

Chick-fil-A spent approximately $14 million on measured media in the first quarter of 2016 according to numbers provided by Kantar Media.