Sonic Keeps Barkley on Roster

Independent agency Barkley won’t be losing all of the Sonic business after all, but said it would retain the chain’s field marketing, cause initiatives and public relations.

“We are thrilled that Sonic will continue to be an important part of Barkley’s business,” said Jeff King, CEO, Barkley. “After 17 years, it’s been a memorable two weeks. We are honored to continue contributing to the growth of this tremendous brand.”

Still, the Kansas City shop is preparing to bid farewell to the lion’s share of the drive-in chain’s $185 million creative and media account. Sonic launched a review as the month began, with Barkley electing not to defend. After discussions with the chain, however, the decision was made to keep the shop for some chores. Joanne Davis Consulting in New York is assisting in the search process, which should conclude early next year.

Beyond dollars, the impending loss strips Barkley of what has long been its main creative showcase, with Sonic’s humorous commercials being well received.

Even so, like many of its fast-food brethren, Sonic has struggled of late, and its numbers have been worse than most players in the category. The company today reported that same-store sales declined 6.4 percent for its 2010 fiscal year. There were 80 franchise openings in the last 12 months, down from 130 the prior year. The company operates 3,500 drive-ins overall.

Sonic has said it began the review in an effort to gain momentum in an increasingly volatile and competitive marketplace.

The restaurant category has been especially active of late, with Darden recently launching a media search for its $300 million U.S. account, and Arby’s in the late stages of a review for creative chores on its $130 million account.