Q&A: Wendy's Ken Calwell

A combination of shrewd business insights and a broad array of marketing ideas won the day for The Kaplan Thaler Group in its successful pitch for lead creative duties on Wendy's, according to CMO Ken Calwell. In an interview with Adweek senior reporter Andrew McMains, Calwell reflected on the review process, how Kaplan Thaler brought its ideas to life and the next phase of the restaurant chain's review of all marketing services, which will focus on media, public relations and multi-cultural efforts.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>Adweek: How did you lay the groundwork for finding a new lead creative agency?</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>Ken Calwell:</b> Number one, we got this brand book and brand strategy established. Part of our turnaround plan that we spent quite a bit of time on building really established clearly who our target is, what our positioning is. We measured it. We quantitatively tested all that with consumers to find out that that positioning and target is a strong place to be for this brand. [This provided] a foundation for the agency search. We were able to share all that information with each of the five finalists.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>Didn't you ask the finalists to put forth partners for media and other disciplines?</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> We said, "When you come in and pitch it, come in as the lead agency &#x2026;but also, bring whatever partners you want to bring along to that." Those could be current partners. &#x2026;Kaplan came in with MediaVest, Saatchi X. Different agencies approached that different ways. We were very open to that. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>What's the next step in your ongoing review of all marketing services?</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Right now, with Kaplan specifically, we're going to spend some more time just to see their overall vision for this idea-led agency model. We saw some of it, obviously, as part of the pitch. We also have some strong views on that. So, we're going to spend some time making sure that really lines up.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>Even though you asked the creative agencies to pitch with partners, you're now considering public relations, multi-cultural and media duties separately.</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Yes. We're [taking it] a step at a time. We really want to do it right the first time. So, that means it goes a little slower. &#x2026;It also means you're bringing people along and they're owning it along with you. We thought if we started with our lead agency, saw &#x2026;what we could accomplish and then had them work through [the rest of the review process] with us [that would be best].<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>What impressed you about Kaplan Thaler's pitch?</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> They shared a lot of very strong creative ideas that were very complex and multimedia in scope, and very comprehensive from a vertical and horizontal integration standpoint. They gave us great vision. They concentrated, obviously, on the media forms closest to them, but they showed their capabilities across a broader range.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>Any ideas that you can produce straight away?</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> I've been through a number of reviews and I never expect that you'll get ideas you can immediately execute. &#x2026;So, we considered it a bonus if we were able to get that far. Kaplan not only looked like a strong long-term partner and capable of doing the things we talked about, but also in the short term a number of their ideas will be very easy to execute.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>How far did they go to illustrate their ideas?</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> It was an interesting presentation because we had video, we had storyboards, we had acting out, we had singing out. No dancing that I remember! We actually looked at casting tapes as well, and some viral videos. They really put a lot of energy and passion into this presentation and really brought a lot of things to life in a lot of different ways. And the creative, executions and insights were very smart. More than anything else, there were lots of insights for the brand.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>What criteria did you use in selecting the agency?</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> We were looking for who has the overall understanding of the category we compete in. We call them "category truths"the things that the category is looking for. We also look at things from a brand perspective&#x2014;a clear understanding of the brand truths. &#x2026;Wendy's [has] a lot of strong equities&#x2014;Dave [Thomas], what we stand for, the food. The third area is consumer truths, what the consumer is looking for. What Kaplan was able to do was [where those things] intersect.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>You didn't have any big networks as finalists. Was that by design? And does Wendy's want to be a top client at the lead agency?</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> The overall size&#x2014;that wasn't necessarily a key criteria. We were very, very interested in what some of these agencies have done [in terms of] taking a big idea, giving a key insight and taking that to really grow a brand. We're very interested in results, what they've done for individual brands to grow them. &#x2026;A lot of those criteria played a heavier role in this than anything to do with size. That can come from big or small [shops]. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>What were the key steps in the process?</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> We looked at all the agencies out there and got it down to the top 10 and then top five. &#x2026;Step two was for the entire committee to brief these agencies. We did a half-day briefing with each at our offices in Dublin, [Ohio], to take them through the brand book and brand strategy. We evaluated them based on the questions and that first interaction. Then we encouraged all of them&#x2014;and they all took us up on this&#x2014;to go out to our franchisees and work in the stores. &#x2026;Step three was the committee as a group visited each and every one of the agencies; all eight of us spent a half-day with each one. &#x2026;Next step was a lot of phone time with all of them answering any additional questions and follow-ups that they might have. The final step was &#x2026;on Monday [July 27] when we had two of them present to us for three hours each. On Tuesday, we had three agencies present, three hours each.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>How quickly will you settle on the PR, media and multi-cultural assignments?</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> We're going to spend the next week or so talking about that time line to see if we [should] move faster or keep some of our original time line. I'm not sure at this point.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>You can see the light at the end of the tunnel now, right?</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Sometimes the review process can be really tough and challenging. This honestly has been my favorite. We had an awesome team on this, some great franchise partners and leadership, and it gave us a chance to really sit back and think about all the new products and, as a team, come together. Sometimes marketers are off by themselves doing agency searches and things. I've never believed in that. I really love the process. I formed this collaborative, cross-functional team. People say you're aligned on strategy, [but] when you have your COO on that team, your franchisees, key operators, your CEO, it's just a great opportunity to make sure you really are. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> --<a href="http://www.adweek.com/aw/index.jsp" target="_blank">Nielsen Business Media</a>