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Our industry is teeming with experienced leaders and visionaries, people from whom we all have much to learn. In continuing with our series highlighting some of these leaders, today Blogging Out Loud speaks with Brad Haley. Brad has served as Chief Marketing Officer for CKE Restaurants, Inc. since 2011. He joined the company as executive vice president of marketing for Hardee’s in 2000, and he took on the marketing responsibility for Carl’s Jr. in January 2004. Before joining CKE, Haley’s experience included marketing stints for companies such as Clorox, Foster Farms and the California Lottery. While working for Jack in the Box in the 1990s, Haley received the Brand Builder Award from Brandweek magazine for his work that helped the chain’s turnaround following an E. coli outbreak. Blogging Out Loud caught up with Brad to discuss the lessons he’s learned and what he sees in the future for his brands and for all marketers.
What do you see as the biggest challenge marketers currently face and why?
We’ve had a long protracted recession, and that sort of redefined “value” as “affordability”. We’ve weathered the storm but I think that’s been the biggest challenge for marketers in recent years, and I think it will be a challenge for many more. The key is finding the way consumers define quality, so that it’s something they’ll be willing to pay for despite the tough times they face.
You recently changed advertising agencies for the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s businesses, and you’ve been part of the team that has made changes in your brands’ outside resources in the past. Can you describe the tangible and intangible factors when deciding it’s time to look for a new agency?
Obviously a lot of factors come into play. One is the relationship itself. Do you find your agency partner is one you enjoy? The creative process is one that needs to be nurtured and developed, and that doesn’t happen if the relationship is not an open and trusting one. Then, there’s the quality of the work. The biggest challenge clients have with creative agencies isn’t in dialing them back. They either have it or they don’t. You want to find someone who understands the brand and the target audience. Some people can do great work for certain categories, but they may not be able to do that for others. It’s key to find a partner who understands your specific business.
It seems the real worth of a working relationship is tested during periods of turmoil. Earlier in your career, you were tossed into the perfect storm when an E. Coli outbreak occurred. What did you learn from that experience? Did it affect how you currently work with both internal and external resources?
I had a little experience with crisis management from my Foster Farms days, because, while I was there, there was a salmonella outbreak — not at Foster Farms, but nonetheless, it made big news. It was a terrible time. You have to remain calm. You have to boil the problems down to their essence and articulate them to the rest of the organization. When people are under pressure, they develop tunnel vision. Focusing on one or two things is key.
What are your go-to resources — whether they be on the streets, in print or online — for keeping up with trends?
We do a lot of our own proprietary research. Our agency partners are huge resources for that. They track the pulse of our customers through a variety of channels. One of the most valuable: I get copied on every guest comment — it’s a time sponge, but it’s worth it. It’s a real-time feel for what our consumers are experiencing, how they’re reacting to products, how they’re reacting to ads. It gives me a real world look at what our customers are thinking and feeling all the time.
What marketing and promotional campaigns and tools are you most excited about now? How has new and social media — namely YouTube — helped your campaigns?
Mobile is huge. It isn’t new for us but it’s continuing and still growing. We were one of the first in the industry to launch a location-based loyalty app, and we’re continuing to expand the penetration of that app. The [smartphone] screen is always with consumers, it’s what they have closest to them at the point of purchase.
We put a lot of effort and energy into social media, although traditional media is still the most powerful one we use. The majority of our focus is on Facebook, because everyone’s there, and it allows for a conversation that not all media affords. YouTube is part of our digital outreach because we make an effort to produce media that’s edgier and appeals to a younger male demographic. YouTube is a great medium for that.
“5 Questions For” is a new and occasional feature in which Blogging Out Loud interviews influential industry leaders on current and future marketing trends.