O’Charley’s Reviews Creative and Media Biz

Incumbent Merkley opts for unusual defense

Merkley + Partners is making an unusual defense in the review of the O’Charley’s restaurant account that the agency has handled since late 2010.

Rather than participate in the review process, the New York shop is redoubling its day-to-day efforts for the marketer. And based on the shop’s performance outside of the review, Merkley hopes to retain all or part of the business, which includes creating traditional and digital ads as well as planning and media buying.

Boston-based consultancy Pile + Co. is managing the search on behalf of O’Charley’s, a unit of O’Charley’s Inc., which is based in Nashville, Tenn. The parent company's other restaurants are Ninety Nine and Stoney River. 

The search comes a month after Richard Trebilcock became vp of marketing for O'Charley's and Stoney River, filling a role that was vacant for about a year. Before the appointment, Trebilcock held marketing positions at Potbelly Sandwich Works, LongHorn Steakhouse, Yum! and KFC.

Pile contacted interested agencies via a request for proposal that was returnable last week. Account revenue is estimated at $2 million. The brand's media spending totaled nearly $10 million in 2010 and almost $11 million in the first nine months of 2011, according to Nielsen. Those figures don't include online spending.

In any review, the incumbent faces long odds at keeping the business. And by opting to defend outside of the process, Merkley won’t make agency-to-agency comparisons easy. But agency CEO Alex Gellert feels that he’s doing right by O’Charley’s already and to change tack simply because a review has been called seems disingenuous to him. Besides, he added, “we don’t think that they’ll learn more through the artificialness of a pitch.”

The strategy seems like a long shot but who knows? After all, the parent company’s last review—for Ninety Nine last year—resulted in the rehiring of the incumbent. O’Charley’s is expected to complete its search in April.