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Why Denny’s ran its media and PR agency reviews simultaneously

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By Sam Bradley, Senior Reporter

December 19, 2023 | 6 min read

Denny’s CMO, Sherri Landry, explains why she ran agency reviews for paid and earned media simultaneously and what’s changing for the brand’s media approach in 2024.

denny's

Denny's recently appointed Mindshare and Finn Partners

Given the cost of running a pitch, most brands try not to run more than one simultaneously. “It’s taxing on teams and partnerships as you bring them on board,” concedes Sherri Landry, chief marketing officer at Denny’s.

“Typically, we’d say, ‘let’s not do that.’”

But taking the time to run pitches consecutively also implies a significant cost, one outweighed by the brand’s needs, says Landry. She joined the 70-year-old fast casual dining brand at the beginning of the year with a brief to position it for its next seven decades in business.

“Through my lens, it wasn’t a legacy brand – it was a brand with a legacy,” she says. To achieve that, Landry says she needed fresh thinking and reinforcement in the boardroom. “I couldn’t be the only new person,” she adds.

Denny’s opened up bidding for both PR and earned media and its media planning and buying account at the same time, eventually appointing Finn Partners to the former and Mindshare to the latter (Allison and Spark Foundry previously held the accounts).

Given its franchise model, Denny’s has to approach its media mix with both national and local requirements in mind. Landry explains that while the business dedicates a portion of its budget to regional or local marketing, most of its spending goes on nationwide campaigns to take advantage of “efficiencies and synergies” around media buying.

Without losing ground as a nationwide American brand, Landry says Denny’s has “an opportunity to improve” its regional and local work with “new thinking focusing on local market reach that would help us connect with guests where they live and play.

“We needed an understanding of the media landscape and how it’s changed today; the ability to understand the nuances locally, as well as plan and develop nationally; and we needed expertise, technology and tools that would help us broaden our message while still maintaining the ability to have localized pricing,” she says.

Given the brand ended up putting two new agencies in situ, ensuring they could work well together and with Landry’s team was a priority. A cultural fit between the three organizations was also crucial for realizing Landry’s aim of earned media acting to amplify paid local spending.

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“We needed agency partners who could work very collaboratively together,” she says, adding that each agency had to be able to match the company’s motto of “feeding minds, bodies and souls.”

Mindshare, she adds, carried the day in part due to its cultural fit with Finn and Landry’s team. Its focus on “agility and being data-driven” also weighed in favor. The company’s work for KFC in the UK earlier this year, which saw it revolutionize the fried chicken chain’s approach to local paid media, won’t have gone unnoticed, given Landry previously worked for KFC’s sister brand Pizza Hut for seven years.

“Data rules the world today, and we needed to make sure that our agency partners were very data-led in their thinking and strategies,” she adds.

The brand’s media mix is set to shift, she says, as it works towards a “local up, national down” approach that can cater to both audiences in California and South Carolina. That will mean less spending on TV and more on digital video platforms: YouTube, TikTok or SVoD. “We need actually to be where our guests are. Right now, they’re in unwired video-based streaming platforms,” Landry says.

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