Wendy’s Wide Hunt Leads To Rowden’s Old Partners

Last week’s shift of creative and media duties on Wendy’s U.S. account—nearly a year in the making—proved yet again that for all the talk of radical engagement, nontraditional media and the triumph of “The Big Idea,” the advertising business is still all about who you know.

Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide CEO Kevin Roberts and Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners co-chairmen Richard Kirshenbaum and Jon Bond knew Wendy’s chief marketing officer Ian Rowden from his 16 years at Coca-Cola. Rowden was a KB+P client when the New York shop produced a global holiday spot for Coke in 1998, and Roberts was a client of Rowden’s—or “Rowdy,” as he calls him—when Roberts was chief operating officer at Lion Nathan, a New Zealand brewery that bottled Coke 20 years ago. In addition, Jerry Levin, a Wendy’s board member who recommended KB+P to Rowden, knows Bond from Levin’s days as CEO of Revlon and now as interim CEO of Sharper Image, an agency client, sources said.

“That job [as vp of worldwide advertising at Coke] gave me relationships with lots of people. I had 32 agencies on the roster around the world,” Rowden said last week, after he moved Wendy’s creative duties from Interpublic Group’s McCann Erickson to Publicis Groupe’s Saatchi, which will serve as lead agency, and MDC Partners’ KB+P, which will handle creative projects. Media duties are shifting from IPG’s Universal McCann to Publicis’ MediaVest.

Even before Rowden and other top execs of the No. 3 fast-food chain began meeting with agencies in September, Rowden already enjoyed a rapport with the leaders of his new creative shops, which take over on April 1. Rowden said he met with seven agencies, including Saatchi and KP+B, but declined to name the others.

Saatchi’s win, which encompasses traditional and interactive ads and retail and direct marketing, comes just four months after the New York shop landed creative duties on JC Penney’s estimated $430 million account, at the expense of Omnicom Group’s DDB in Chicago. As with Wendy’s, Saatchi’s pursuit of Penney began after Roberts, a brash evangelist for the agency’s Lovemarks branding philosophy, made a connection at the top.

Total revenue on the creative, media and interactive pieces is estimated at more than $25 million. Wendy’s spends about $400 million annually in major measured media, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus, but that figure includes field marketing ads that McCann does not create. McCann’s national work was backed by about $240 million in annual media spending, an agency representative said.

The winning shops were asked to provide a “point of view and a voice” on Wendy’s and its positioning against its bigger rivals, said a source, but were never asked to present creative work.

“It was my decision not to conduct a pitch,” said Rowden. “Given my experience and history with working with agencies, I’ve not found pitches to be the most healthy way for clients and agencies to engage. You end up in a situation where there’s much more promised than is able to be delivered.”

After Rowden joined Wendy’s from Callaway Golf in December 2004, Roberts was among some 50 agency executives who called to wish him well, and yes, offer his services. About a year ago, the hard-charging chief reconnected with the marketer, and by October, the CEO had introduced him to his New York leadership team: CEO Mary Baglivo, chief creative officer Tony Granger and strategic planning director Sandy Thompson.

The loss was dispiriting for McCann, which cited six months of same-store sales increases begining in July and continuing through the end of 2006. July represented an uptick from previous months and from most of 2005, when same-store sales had been down. McCann U.S. president Brett Gosper said, “Wendy’s decision, coming as it does amid huge signs that we’ve contributed to a turnaround of their business, is surprising and disappointing.”