The impact of Shaq
Papa John’s announcement that NBA Hall of Famer and TV analyst Shaquille O’Neal joined the company’s board was met with high marks throughout the organization, Ritchie said. In addition to investing in nine Atlanta locations, O’Neal is also stepping in as ambassador for Papa John’s as part of a marketing agreement—a jolt of PR energy it surely needs.
Ritchie said the announcement “was very exciting for the brand internally.”
“But I think, from a consumer standpoint, we saw a direct correlation to sentiment, [we saw] improvement directly after that announcement,” he said.
Already, O’Neal has offered input and advice on marketing, store design, operations, and consumer-facing initiatives. This past Friday, he was at Morehouse College in Atlanta helping Papa John’s connect with an HBC audience.
“Very broad in his reach and very tactical in his efforts,” Ritchie said, “and spends a lot of time in engagement and those things as we build up to the opportunities as it relates to the advertising.”
He added the South Atlanta investment would drive outside interest to garner addition franchisees into the system. O’Neal currently owns a Krispy Kreme in Atlanta and previously had 27 Five Guys Burgers and Fries franchises. Additionally, O’Neal founded and runs Big Chicken, a fast casual in Las Vegas, as well as Shaquille’s, a fine-dine restaurant in Los Angeles.
Ritchie said the O’Neal deal was “unanimously supported” by the National Marketing Fund board that’s made up of Papa John’s franchise partners and corporate employees.
“That was nice to get that support,” Ritchie said. “At the same time, we know until we can get sales back to positive—this is a company that experienced 14 consecutive years flat to positive sales growth—so we’re not accustomed to sales declines when the brand is as strong as Papa John’s.”
Another marketing change Ritchie hopes will reroute the chain’s positioning is the March hiring of former Subway SVP of marketing for North America, Karlin Linhardt. He also worked at McDonald’s from 1995–2005 and spent a decade with Anheuser-Busch.
The role was 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.
“As we added a strong CMO to the team, last quarter, we also made tangible progress improving key elements of the customer value proposition,” Ritchie said.