WASHINGTON: Denny's emerged from an extensive communications review last week with its first ever agency of record, Stanton Communications.
The decision to go with an AOR after years of widespread project work reflects a greater desire for strategic communications within the company, said PR director Debbie Atkins.
"We are the leading family restaurant chain in the country - there are over 1,600 Denny's restaurants - and this year we are really outperforming our key competitors," she said. "[Stanton] is now helping us devise a communications plan for 2005 to reach out about these accomplishments."
Much of Denny's PR efforts in the past have centered on charges of racial insensitivity. Then known as Advantica, the parent company paid $54 million in 1994 to settle two lawsuits brought by patrons who claimed they were discriminated against.
DC-based Walls Communications, an African-American-owned agency, led much of Denny's PR at the time, which included significant minority outreach. Extensive racial-sensitivity training was instituted for all employees, as well.
There are indications that those efforts helped turn the company's image around. In 2000 and 2001, Denny's won the top spot in Fortune's annual listing of the 50 best companies for minorities.
Stanton is charged not only with "creating media opportunities" and developing a crisis plan, Atkins said, but with closely monitoring and analyzing media coverage of the company.
"We were looking for an agency that had national retail experience and a real strategic approach to business," she explained. "Their professional know-how is what sold us."
Atkins is one of just three in-house PR staffers at Denny's. Dallas-based Publicis Mid-America handles the company's advertising work.
Stanton is a full-service firm with about 30 staffers, and offices in DC, Baltimore, and New York. Other clients include W. L. Gore & Associates (makers of Gore-Tex) and Sprint.