Darden Puts $200 Million Media Assignment In Review

Restaurant holding company Darden has launched a media agency review for both its Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse chains.

The company’s last major media agency assessment was in 2010, when incumbent Starcom was selected to handle the assignment.

Back then, the company was spending around $300 million annually on ads for all of its restaurants. At the time the firm also owned the Red Lobster chain which was sold last July to Golden Gate Capital for roughly $2.1 billion. Starcom sibling Spark won media chores for Red Lobster after the sale. Those duties are not in review.

In 2013 Darden spent about $215 million on ads, according to Kantar. For the first nine months of 2014, it spent about $160 million.

The sale of Red Lobster came amid a corporate battle between Darden management and disgruntled shareholders. Subsequently, activist investor Starboard Value launched a proxy battle which it won last October when its full slate of board nominees was elected at the company’s annual meeting.



In November the new board, headed by Starboard CEO Jeffrey Smith, hired executive recruiter Korn Ferry to conduct a search for a new CEO. That search is ongoing. 

Also in November the company laid off about 60 employees and eliminated another 25 unfilled positions across its marketing, development, aviation, external affairs and field operations management functions. 

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