Sweetgreen preps in-house agency with new exec

Dive Brief:

  • Sweetgreen hired Thomas Wilder as its first executive creative director to oversee the fast-casual chain’s development of an in-house advertising agency, per an announcement emailed to Marketing Dive. Wilder previously was a partner and creative director at Collins, the strategy and brand experience design company.
  • At Sweetgreen, Wilder now oversees the company’s brand, advertising, packaging, online channels, store experiences and social media presence. Since starting in the job, Wilder began several efforts including new product drops and a partnership with YouTube personality Valkyrae as the chain’s first steps into gaming and video streaming.
  • Sweetgreen’s plan to develop an internal ad agency is another indication of the in-housing trend that has become more popular in recent years. With many marketers seeking to cut costs or expand their always-on campaigns for digital platforms, in-housing provides a dedicated team to oversee that work.

Dive Insight:

Sweetgreen’s hiring of Thomas Wilder as the company’s first executive creative director is notable as it kicks off the formation of an in-house agency to oversee its advertising and marketing strategy. The fast-casual chain focuses on organic and locally sourced ingredients for its salads, and by last year had grown to more than 100 locations throughout the country. As it achieves a greater scale, Sweetgreen has more opportunities to develop wider-reaching campaigns and digital content that appeals to a target audience of young adult consumers who are heavy users of social media.

The growth of in-house agencies has coincided with rising consumption of digital media, which requires a steady production of content on social channels as brands seek to keep their customers continually engaged. In the restaurant industry, examples of such campaigns include everything from the Twitter account for burger chain Wendy’s, which has gained a following for sassy remarks and lighthearted insults of rivals, to viral videos that Chipotle Mexican Grill has created on social video app TikTok.

Almost three quarters (72%) of corporations have some form of in-house shop, according to a survey last year by the In-House Agency Forum (IHAF), a trade group representing internal agencies. Not only is the number of in-house agencies growing, but they also are taking on more significant marketing work, according to the Association of National Advertisers (ANA). Sweetgreen’s development of an in-house agency is another sign of that accelerating trend.

Wilder has worked in advertising and marketing for more than 10 years, and his work has been recognized by The One Show, Graphis, The Art Directors Club, Fast Company, Ad Age, Forbes and AICP Next, among other organizations, per the announcement. Before joining Collins in 2013, Wilder’s experience includes work as a designer at Mgmt. Design, MTWTF and Plaid. Wilder graduated from Penn State University in 2008.

The move to an in-house agency model comes as Sweetgreen — a chain dependent on lunch in urban markets — grapples with the continued effects of the pandemic. The company in October announced plans to cut its corporate workforce by 20% as it worked to accelerate store growth in new communities and enhance digital ordering, among other initiatives.

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