ATLANTA: Just a month after it settled race-bias lawsuits and after a three-month search process that considered more than 20 agencies, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store has selected MS&L as its first AOR in the company's 35-year history.
MS&L's Atlanta office will lead national PR for the Tennessee-based restaurant chain.
Chris Tomasso, Cracker Barrel's VP of marketing, said MS&L fit well with the company's overall marketing strategy. "We were at a turning point in the history of the organization," he said, citing the chain's 500th restaurant opening and 35th anniversary. "[MS&L] had an obvious passion for the business itself."
Jim Tsokanos, MD of MS&L Atlanta, said the agency won the business because "we really understood the brand better than anybody else." He cited brand building, reputation management, and corporate communications as some of the agency's responsibilities.
Tsokanos said MS&L took the initiative to bring in Precise Communications - a minority-owned boutique agency in Atlanta - to handle Cracker Barrel's multicultural communications.
Last month, the company agreed to pay $8.7 million to settle discrimination lawsuits filed by black customers and employees. Alexis Davis Smith, president and director of Precise, said her firm will provide "strategic counsel and support to reach out to African-American and Hispanic audiences."
Cracker Barrel also faces a PR challenge in Texas, where it and eight other companies were recently indicted and charged with making illegal corporate contributions to TRM-PAC, a political action committee connected to House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-TX).
The company has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to GOP candidates and causes over the last decade, according to The Tennessean.
Tomasso said Cracker Barrel's contributions were legal and that it regularly makes "issue-related" contributions targeting business concerns such as outdoor-advertising rights.
The decision to hire an AOR was not based on the indictments or the lawsuits, but was "a coincidence of timing," he added.