Whataburger Taps Austin Shop

Eighteen years ago, Mark McGarrah and Bryan Jessee worked on the Whataburger account as junior staffers at The Richards Group.

They formed McGarrah/Jessee in 1996 and once again are working for the Corpus Christi, Texas-based chain after winning a review for the estimated $10 million account over fellow Texas shops Firehouse in Addison and RuffCoffinBreedlove in Austin.

“It’s cool for things to come full circle,” McGarrah said.

The mid-April win makes Whataburger one of the largest accounts at the 28-person Austin agency, which plans to add staff to handle the business.

Incumbent Square One in Dallas, which had handled creative and media since 1995, was cut early in the process, said client group director of marketing Rod Martin. Media, which was not part of the review, remains with Square One’s Southwest Media Group.

Martin said his company was swayed by McGarrah’s research and planning capabilities, which will be used to provide a “strategic focusing” for the brand rather than a “broad strategic shift.”

The company’s sales grew to $693 million last year, a 13 percent jump from 2001, according to Technomic, a Chicago food-service consultancy.

Whataburger operates about 600 restaurants in the South and has ambitious growth plans. McGarrah will introduce new markets to the chain, which positions itself as a provider of quality food prepared, as its ads are tagged, “Just like you like it.”