As Papa John’s works to revamp its image and standing with consumers, it will have a fresh marketing chief at the controls. Former Subway SVP of marketing for North America, Karlin Linhardt, has joined the pizza chain as its global chief marketing officer, the company announced Thursday morning. Linhardt led brand management and guest experience for 30,000 restaurants at Subway and helped design its global brand transformation plan. He left the post in December 2017.
Papa John’s CMO role had been vacant since May 2018. Brandon Rhoten, who left for Potbelly, resigned about a year after joining the company. The former VP of advertising, media, and digital/social at Wendy’s International exited the position May 25.
Linhardt worked at McDonald’s from 1995–2005, and also spent a decade with Anheuser-Busch. Before Subway, Linhardt clocked time as a senior consultant for Accenture, working on Subway’s brand evolution in conjunction with Accenture’s design and construction of the Subway Digital platform
Linhardt was named Senior Vice President of Marketing for North America at Subway in April 2017, and was tasked “with overseeing North American marketing teams and core disciplines, including advertising, media planning and execution, menu innovation and development, research and analytics, corporate social responsibility, and tactical events and sponsorships,” the company said at the time.
“Karlin is a seasoned marketing executive who I am confident will contribute to our ‘Better Ingredients. Better Pizza’ brand value proposition,” said Papa John’s president and CEO Steve Ritchie in a statement. “The addition of Karlin as global chief marketing officer is one of the many significant steps we’ve taken to improve our brand differentiation, which includes enhancing our quality positioning in the category. Karlin’s combined restaurant, franchise and consumer brand experience make him an excellent addition to the Papa John’s leadership team.”
Linhardt worked on some of McDonald’s most recognizable initiatives during his tenure, including promotions around Happy Meals, value, and premium burger platforms. Additionally, he led partnerships in past roles with Disney, Walmart, and Coca-Cola, and served on the board of directors for Perkins & Marie Callender’s Restaurants for seven years.
“I am excited to join Papa John’s and begin working with the talented leadership and marketing teams to build upon the work underway,” Linhardt said in a statement. “I’m a fan of Papa John’s high-quality product and I look forward to helping tell that quality story to customers in new ways.”
“Strong marketing leadership is critical to driving the success of our brand and our business,” added Bo Knapp, Papa John’s franchise advisory council marketing committee chairman. “Karlin appreciates the important role franchisees play in the organization and understands the needs of the franchise system. I welcome him to Papa John’s and look forward to working closely with him in his new role.”
Earlier in March, Papa John’s announced that NBA legend and TV analyst Shaquille O’Neal was joining Papa John’s as a member of its board of directors and as an investor in nine Atlanta locations. He’s also stepping in as an ambassador for the Papa John’s brand as part of a marketing agreement as well.
The marketing task at Papa John’s will definitely be a challenging one. The brand has spent the last year trying to distance itself from founder John Schnatter, whose comments about the NFL’s handling of anthem protests began a lengthy saga between the two parties. Schnatter first stepped down as CEO and then resigned from his chairman position following a report he used a racial slur in a May conference call arranged between Papa John’s executives and then-marketing agency Laundry Service.
Schnatter agreed in March to a separation plan where he would depart the board in exchange for having a say in his replacement. Also, the move resolved two legal disputes between Schnatter and Papa John’s. The chain agreed to give him all the books and records pertaining to his ouster as chairman last July.
Schnatter also agreed to dismiss a separate lawsuit he filed seeking to invalidate a provision of the “poison pill” plan the company adopted in July.
In addition, Papa John’s said it would drop a provision in the securities purchase deal with Starboard that required the investor to vote in favor of the company’s incumbent board members when they stand for re-election.
The company pulled Schnatter off marketing materials over the summer and then launched a “Voices” campaign that spotlighted the faces and stories behind the brand. The employee-centric creative was intended to show Papa John’s was a company of 120,000 employees, not one.
Papa John’s reported its first annual sales decline since 2009 in Q1, with figures dropping 12 percent to $1.57 billion. Papa John’s reported a fourth-quarter loss of $13.8 million, although it ended the year with a small profit. It recorded net income of $4.6 million when adjusted to take out one-time costs, down from $23 million in the prior year.
Q4 revenue dropped 20 percent to $374 million and North America same-store sales fell 8.1 percent, year-over-year. They declined 7.3 percent for the full 2018 calendar versus the comparable period.
In addition, the company tallied up $50.7 million in charges for 2018 as it battled controversy and tried to slow domestic closings, including $15.4 million in financial assistance to franchisees; $19.5 million in legal and advisory costs; and $10 million in marketing contributions.
Papa John’s closed 186 North America franchises and seven corporate stores, shuttering a total of 193 units while opening 89. It acquired another 62 as well to end the year with 3,337 North America restaurants (2,692 franchised and 645 corporate). There are 1,966 international
Starboard invested $200 million in Papa John’s in late January. The company, known in the industry for its turnaround efforts at Darden, added two members to the chain’s board, CEO Smith, and Anthony Sanfilippo, the former chairman and CEO of Pinnacle Entertainment.
In mid-March, the company announced that Michael Dubin, CEO and founder of Dollar Shave Club, was also joining the board. So was Jocelyn Mangan, CEO and founder of Him For Her and a former executive at Snagajob and OpenTable. Both are independent directors.
In total, six new directors have joined Papa John’s board in 2019. This includes four new independent directors, Smith, Dubin, Mangan, and Sanfilippo, as well as Ritchie.
As of December 30, 2018, there were 5,303 Papa John’s restaurants, consisting of 645 company-owned and 4,658 franchised restaurants operating domestically in all 50 states and in 46 countries and territories.