O’Charley’s Picks Merkley

The O’Charley’s chain of casual dining restaurants has awarded creative and media duties on its advertising account to Merkley + Partners after a review, the client has confirmed.

Merkley, a unit of Omnicom Group in New York, bested two other agencies to land the business, sources said. (The client declined to identify the other contenders). The new agency succeeds independent The Buntin Group in Nashville, which had handled the account for 14 years.

The creative assignment includes traditional ads, digital work, collateral and point-of-sale materials.

O’Charley’s, one of three chains within parent company O’Charley Inc. in Nashville, typically spends between $10 million and $15 million in major measured media annually. Last year’s total was $12 million, down slightly from $13 million in 2008, according to Nielsen. The total for the first half of 2010 was $5 million. Those figures don’t include online spending.

The win comes as Merkley prepares for the loss of Arby’s, now in the final stages of a review. Merkley, which had handled lead creative duties since 2004, is not defending. Sources estimate Arby’s’ account revenue at $5 million.

Merkley CEO Alex Gellert attributed the O’Charley’s win in part to the agency’s experience in restaurant category, be it quick-serve (Arby’s), sports-themed (Dave & Buster’s) or upscale (Ruth’s Chris). Other Merkley clients include Mercedes-Benz, Schering-Plough and Axa Equitable.

O’Charley’s is the “kind of assignment we really love — one where we can deliver a truly integrated program for a client that fully utilizes our category experiences and insights,” Gellert said.

In making the selection, O’Charley’s vp of marketing Nancy Keil-Culbertson cited Merkley’s “strategically-based creative thinking” and “in-depth understanding of our industry,” adding that the agency’s “ability to consistently create traffic-driven marketing promotions without compromising brand image was pivotal in reaching our decision.”

An Atlanta-based consultancy, New Eyes, helped manage the search.

O’Charley’s has 242 locations in 19 states in the Southeast and Midwest.

The other chains owned by the restaurant’s parent are Ninety Nine and Stoney River.