Episode 153 – Coffee N5 – Brewing Kindness: A Reconnecting Blend with Melissa Richards-Person

Join Lara Schmoisman and special guest Melissa Richards-Person on Coffee N° 5 as they brew up insightful conversations on forging authentic connections, navigating the dynamic landscape of global marketing over the last 25 years, and the unique impact of regions on field marketing strategies. With roots in radio, Melissa and Lara bring a fresh perspective to the table, discussing the nuances of assessing failure for brand growth and navigating brand development beyond the constraints of the pandemic. Don’t miss out on this caffeinated dose of wisdom, wit, and kindness.

We’ll talk about:

  • The importance of forging authentic connections
  • The realities of global marketing over the last 25 years
  • The impact of regions on field marketing and the flexibility it offers
  • Melissa and Lara’s roots in radio
  • How to assess and analyze failure for brand growth
  • Brand development beyond the constraints of the pandemic and life thereafter

For more information, visit Melissa Richards-Person’s LinkedIn.

Subscribe to Lara’s newsletter.

Also, follow our host Lara Schmoisman on social media:

Instagram: @laraschmoisman

Facebook: @LaraSchmoisman

LinkedIn: @laraschmoisman

Lara Schmoisman 0:05
This is Coffee Number Five. I’m your host, Lara Schmoisman. Hello, everyone. Welcome back to Coffee Number Five. Today, I want to say -, someone a long, long time ago, during a job interview, to be honest with you. And you know, he does so many jobs interview over time. And I was young, I was very young. And I don’t know if that position probably wasn’t a good fit for me, because I didn’t get it. And which I’m grateful to there. They didn’t get it. But I remember the person who interviewed me, she was kind, she was memorable, she made a difference. And so when I ran into her many years later, and I knew I had to have her in this podcast, because her trajectory is amazing. But also, I remember her kindness. And that’s something that it always shows through. And it’s an honor to have you here, Melissa Richards-Person, thank you so much for being here today.

Melissa Richards-Person 1:09
Oh, thank you, Lara, I’m I’m touched to hear you say that it’s isn’t it funny, how just small moments can make these lasting impacts. And it’s funny, you’re not the first person for whom I forged a connection, interviewing for a role that either that person didn’t get or the role for whatever reason didn’t come to fruition. I’m actually I have a mutual mentoring relationship with a woman who I interviewed for a content and brand activation role. And we ended up pausing the role when I was at Papa John’s. But she and I stayed in touch because there was so much I could learn from her on the social media and content marketing side. And she really wanted to get my guidances as she progressed throughout the, her career. So yeah, it’s it’s it’s funny how that happens, isn’t it?

Lara Schmoisman 2:16
It’s so interesting. I mean, that’s the power of collaboration. And I think, and we were talking, because we’re together in several groups, and the power of collaboration, it’s tremendous if you do it, right. If you go not with intention, or with an agenda, it’s just to really nurture those connections.

Melissa Richards-Person 2:37
Yeah, it’s, whenever I approach a conversation, I feel like how can I be helpful. And in 20, plus years of corporate marketing, I always try to respond to emails, even email, solicitations, or emails, as long as I felt like, I could sincerely be helpful. I would if I if there was something in there that I said, you know, this is not for me. And here’s why. Or, if there if there was something that I really liked, or something that I thought could be more effective in their presentation, I would put that out there. And I was shocked at the number of people who said, you know, no one ever responds to me. Now, there was a handful of people who would always get annoyed, AND, OR, AND, OR would just keep pestering me. But for the most part, yeah, this idea of, of being authentic and approaching every interaction with this person has something to teach me what is that? And how can I be helpful in this exchange? At this moment in time?

Lara Schmoisman 4:01
Yeah. And also that’s been memorable. I don’t know why I remember you, but you made a really impact in my life. And I remember you, and I think we didn’t even I never seen your face it was on the phone. And but still, when you make an impact in the conversation, or you ask the right questions, is all about the journey, and what do you have in common? And there is something that I really not tolerate is the soliciting. And they trying to sell you something or tell you what you need without for even getting to know you?

Melissa Richards-Person 4:41
Yeah, yeah.

Lara Schmoisman 4:43
I’m all good about I mean, because I do it all the time. As an agency owner, I of course, I need to offer my services, but first, I will listen to who you are and what you might need from me.

Melissa Richards-Person 4:55
Yeah, yeah, for sure. For sure. I you know, this is slightly off topic, but and we’ll pivot back, I’m certain, but I think part of what people have lost in the last three to four years of virtual work from home work from office physical, is how to thread the needle through all of those types of interactions. Yeah, you know, the people who are forcing return to office in a very strict and rigid way, I’m actually convinced, are people who are uncomfortable with adapting and threading that needle through all the different ways that you can interact? Now, of course, there’s certain there’s certain things that just can’t be done virtually. And I understand that. But in so many cases, it’s and I think it’s what made my work with my team successful during the pandemic was because I spent four years in the international side of our business where even the rudimentary video conferencing, I was doing most of my work. on conference calls, we shifted to a few video calls. But I was the one that had to learn to adapt to different time zones, different modes of operation, different cultures and styles. And all of that was happening while we were trying to drive a business forward.

Lara Schmoisman 6:39
Well, for me was a little different, because my team and my agency was always remote. So for us, it was no difference. But the world had to adapt to how we were working. Do you were you already work? Yeah. And so we, we were very lucky, because we had systems in place. But it’s and that’s really important. But I think a lot of the companies nowadays are really concern of productivity. Because a lot of people are trying, it’s not easy to work remote is really not easy. You have to have your space, and you need to distractions could go be the death

Melissa Richards-Person 7:20
of you. Yeah, it’s, it’s a challenge to adapt, I think sometimes. But then again, that’s the that’s a zone that I’ve always been comfortable with. And I think if you are someone who knows how to thrive and uncertainty, and be uncomfortable, and adapt, and pivot, I think those are some of the skills that are going to be the most necessary for, for work going forward.

Lara Schmoisman 7:57
And I love that you say that, because being uncomfortable, it’s so important to understand that you’re uncomfortable on how you’re going to deal with it, or how you’re gonna handle it. Because sometimes you’re uncomfortable, and you keep doing things being uncomfortable. And that never works.

Melissa Richards-Person 8:13
Yeah,

Lara Schmoisman 8:14
let’s do it a little bit. Because I want to go back how I mean, you have an incredible, incredible 25, over 25 years career in global marketing, which is nowadays being global, it’s easy. Let’s put it that way. But when we started, we have no internet. And I always tell this story, because I’m from Argentina, like everyone knows. And for many years, we weren’t able to get anything from English speaking. So music that in the US, for example, was in the 80s, for me was in the iris. So it was a completely different. It was like a parallel life, but at the same time different times. So it was hard to be back they are and to work with different markets that were the one as interconnected as they are today.

Melissa Richards-Person 9:07
Yeah. There’s even if you think about it, even the regional marketing within the US, it’d be very, very different. Because if you didn’t live in the Orlando area, for instance, then you weren’t going to see the marketing programs we were doing in Orlando, to promote Olive Garden, for instance, you know, and you could in some ways, it was great because you could test things in isolation. And you had a better way of testing and monitoring impact in a very Clean way, you know, I think back to my times and Field Marketing at Olive Garden. And one of the things that I was charged with doing was rolling out a program encouraging people to pair wine with their dinner at Olive Garden, which was just not something that people were were used to. And it was a part of what we call their genuine Italian dining experience. And so we could try three different things in three different areas and compare and contrast the results. And you had clean tests, you know, they didn’t bleed into one another because someone didn’t post a picture on Instagram, or,

Lara Schmoisman 10:48
or text another – able to isolate them.

Melissa Richards-Person 10:50
Yeah, yeah, you were able to isolate results. Now, the flip side of that is, as I think about, you know, as we’re recording this, it’s Super Bowl week, and I think about some of the Superbowl programs that we did. And 10 years ago, the Superbowl was in New York City, and we were launching the double cheeseburger pizza, it was the first time that I’d wrapped any sort of brand that was that, that was for Papa John’s, Okay, papa, John’s double, double cheeseburger pizza. And it was the first time we’d wrapped an activation behind a specific product. And I did that, because I wanted to measure the impact that something like that would have on the performance, the sales performance of a single product out of the gate, again, monitoring impact. But the advantage was being in New York City, and having touch with all the media outlets, but also being able to capture content on the street, when we were sampling, and amplify that content, all over social media, all of a sudden change the value equation of the investment in a single site kind of sampling program. And, and so that’s the, the the plus of being in this kind of newly and highly connected age, but yeah, it has, it has both sides of it, I started my career in radio promotions. Anyway,

Lara Schmoisman 12:29
I started in radio!

Melissa Richards-Person 12:31
Oh my gosh, and in very, very early on, it was a lot more like that old show Wk RP in Cincinnati than anybody would like to know. And so I think back to some of the antics that our DJs would would get into, and I think, thank God, there wasn’t social media back then. Because I would have been putting out fires all the time. So they’re the the ability to isolate the impact of things, I think was great. back then. But I do prefer the the ability, and I think, you know, we were talking about working with smaller brands, and in particular, small to medium brands, really can build themselves so much more easily now and and get their get their threshold of customers and threshold of awareness. Higher faster. Because we’re so interconnected.

Lara Schmoisman 13:35
Yeah, but at the same time, there is noise. There is noise everywhere. Oh, yeah. So it’s really an also because everyone has the opportunity. They have a cell phone, so everyone thinks that they can do Instagram. And maybe if you’re lucky, it goes well, but I always say that because you did well, or something went viral, or you go to few sales. It’s not that you’re building a brand.

Melissa Richards-Person 13:59
Right. Right. Well, and and, you know, back in the in the early days when Photoshop and some of the design software came out. Everybody’s worked five days. Yeah. And you know, everybody thought they could be a designer. Yeah. And everybody now thinks they can be a content creator. And technically they can if you have a phone, you could be a content creator. But you have to be a storyteller.

Lara Schmoisman 14:27
And they have to have a strategy behind it.

Melissa Richards-Person 14:31
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, you have to you have to know who you’re targeting. And what value do you bring to them? You know, it goes back to the conversation we were having, what value do you bring to an interaction?

Lara Schmoisman 14:48
Because going back to the two stories you told us about Oliver garden and Papa Jones. I will think in a little bit about how important is to measure performance and I’m going to measure not only what works also what doesn’t, because I actually did a little video this week, I think, for tech talk, but I was talking about how important is to know where we’re failing, or what stop working. Because in the world that we we live in right now, the word trending, for me is huge. Things are trending, and they stop trending. Right, we need to stop seeing what is in going down and stop working. I’m all about sharing all the resorts, because we need to know what’s trending up and what’s trending the home.

Melissa Richards-Person 15:38
Yeah, yeah, the, the fear of failure is real. You know, the best companies talk about failing fast, but the component of failing fast is learning from it. And I come from the world of retail, where, you know, you can look at sales results every single day. And in that environment, it’s it’s very tempting to just go, Okay, that didn’t work, move on, on to the next on to the next. But there are so many really good nuggets in why something didn’t make it as opposed to just saying it didn’t work, move on. I think about Stuffed Crust Pizza with Papa John’s, which was something that we were aware for many, many years, that was something our customer wanted, our customers really are the ultimate salon lovers. And in that they love all kinds of No, I want this. I’m sorry, I’m making. The problem with working in food is anytime I have a conversation, I tend to make people hungry. Yes. But, you know, the customers were the ultimate pizza consumers. And so they wanted an ultimate pizza lovers wanted stuffed crust as an option. But several times around. We just couldn’t make it work. And in the case of those failures, there was a an openness, finally with our new leadership team to say, what were the operational challenges and work in partnership with our franchisees to say, how do we get over the operational challenges that are holding us up from this? Not necessarily the marketing challenges?

Lara Schmoisman 17:43
That’s so interesting, and many times you need to look into that you need to listen to the data, see what’s worked, what’s requested. I mean, analyzing data, it’s a whole different game, because it requires a skill and time. It’s not something that you can drive conclusions. It’s like why are we getting this data?

Melissa Richards-Person 18:07
Yeah, yeah, there’s a, there’s a lot of, of observations without true insights. And I’m very lucky to have been taught, I’m using air quotes taught in the young way of brand building, which was something that David Novak brought in, when he stepped up to lead yum brands, which I was a part of KFC. And we were always taught that there’s a difference between observations and insights. And a great insight can launch a dozen different products, campaigns, ideas, approaches. And observation is just that it’s something you notice in the data that you might take an action, but the Insight unlocks a whole world for business. For me that insight was while I was being charged with leading the family meals business at KFC, that’s everything that went in a bucket and with a bucket. And when I was given that business, it was over 50% of of a restaurants p&l,

Lara Schmoisman 19:27
So it’s good – percentage, because we’re talking about these insights, but then we need a professional gut feeling here. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I always work by gut feeling using the data and insights and everything. But then there is something that experience and that time that we learn from making so many mistakes and making a success too. But then we have that gut feeling that tells us is that waste very telling us? Go in this direction. Don’t go The other direction, how do you trust that feeling?

Melissa Richards-Person 20:05
I think it comes with time. Because if you it’s that goose bump moment, right? It’s that that the tingling in your spine and the goosebumps, oh my gosh, this is something, there’s something here. And I personally believe it’s with time and mistakes to experiment and try things even. Even back to my college days, I was involved in organizations, and I was the general manager of a student television station, shout out Syracuse University go orange. And I was putting on shows and I had a show that failed miserably. And I had to think about why it why I thought it was going to be a good idea, and what in those assumptions were wrong. And I carried that through my career and made a lot of bets that went well and understood what those were, and decisions or recommendations that maybe didn’t go well. And I paid the price for that. And took responsibility. But I think you learn enough to know when that that gut level. Ooh, there’s something here.

Lara Schmoisman 21:32
Yeah. But taking responsibility. And that’s something I feel like lately, it’s been very hard that everyone wants success. And but nobody wants to take responsibility for a failure. And failure is not the failure. It’s like EPS. This isn’t the work.

Melissa Richards-Person 21:48
Yeah. It I learned from some great leaders. So I think that’s where you Align yourselves with the right people and the right leaders who not only talk the talk, but walk the walk when it comes to failure. Very early in my my career still in radio promotions, I had something that went spectacularly wrong, we were giving away trips. And the operator the tour operator of the trip went out of business. Oh god, yeah, I mean, it was I literally did go into the bathroom and throw up. Because I was still in my in my mid 20s. And I thought, I’m gonna get fired over this, I’m gonna get fired over this. And the general manager said, You know what? I looked at the same contract you did. I talked to these people, too. It’s my responsibility as much as it is yours. Let’s go figure out how to fix it. And I think when you have those sorts of leaders, it, it makes a huge difference in your ability to stand up and be accountable, and take responsibility for something, and then talk about how do you solve it? And how do you learn from it?

Lara Schmoisman 23:15
Yeah, always the in the moment, that grant of crisis, I always say you need to step back. Yeah. You can now be then were analyzed what was the problem? Or even who made the mistake, because it’s important to acknowledge who made the mistake, so it doesn’t happen again, because maybe it’s not that person made a mistake, it was an error that came domino effect, who knows, we will need to analyze that. But in the moment of crisis, your separators off, and you look at the problem, and how can we fix it?

Melissa Richards-Person 23:48
Yeah. It’s, it really stops you from assigning blame and looking instead towards the points of failure and how you solve them.

Lara Schmoisman 24:00
Yeah, exactly. And and that’s what you need to have. I mean, you need to have the clarity, the clarity, find that moment, and I think that’s something that as we get older, it’s easier because you had so many crisis already.

Melissa Richards-Person 24:19
Yeah, I’ve gotten I actually I, I regard myself as somewhat of a turnaround and crisis expert. Now, having gone through multiple situations where, you know, from a positive standpoint, it was a business in decline that or, or a business that was stalled in the KFC family meals business that needed a reposition for growth, or, you know, going through what what I went through in the 2018 PR crisis at Papa John’s. Yeah, it’s, it’s being able to, to your points stop and take a breath for a moment. Yeah. And not get caught up in that circle of oh my god, I’m looking at it like that. What do I do? What do I do?

Lara Schmoisman 25:11
I, you know, there are two things I always tell my team first it don’t freak out until I forget. Like that. Yeah. So when you see me freaking out, then you can freak out. But the other thing is that when there is a crisis, you really need to make decisions, and they can go right or they can wrong wrong. But what you cannot do is to act in desperation. Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Because that always goes out.

Melissa Richards-Person 25:42
Yeah, absolutely true.

Lara Schmoisman 25:43
And so let me ask you a question. I mean, it’s because you’ve been incorporated for so many years. Yeah. Now, you’re not anymore. Why you decided to go this way? Why you decided that you can help different companies in different ways. Because being human, you climb the ladder you want all the way they are? And this is a question that I always have. I mean, it’s a career to be incorporate Yes. To their job. Yeah.

Melissa Richards-Person 26:17
It’s, as always, I think there’s a personal side and a professional side. So for me, the professional side of it, is around the fact that if I look at all of the experiences that I had, and the ones that I’m both most proud of, and were most successful, the thing that they all had in common is that they were at points of inflection, or points of pivot, where there was a realization that the status quo wasn’t going to take us any further. AND, and OR that change needed to happen. One of my one of my friends said, when you show up, stuff has got to get done. And that’s your value. And so finding that I really loved that, that’s not necessarily the the point at which a company always wants to be right, they don’t always want to be in the in the change the pivot. I’m sort of that solution to move them from where they were to where they want to be. And then to turn it over to the side. Yeah, and then move on. So professionally, that’s what really excited me and what got me got me up and really lit me up inside

Lara Schmoisman 27:52
that takes some self discovery and also guts to say and then because being a corporate being in the ladder, and her say, Okay, this is not for me anymore to fix that. Yeah.

Melissa Richards-Person 28:05
Well, it change presents an opportunity for me the change that was presented. You know, I’m here in Louisville, Kentucky, and Papa John’s was headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as KFC. Or at as is KFC and Papa John’s decided that they were going to move their commercial functions to a new office in Atlanta. And this is where the personal and the professional dovetail at the time, my dad was in his early 90s, early to mid 90s. And he lives seven minutes from me, so I wasn’t going to move him and I wasn’t going to leave him. So I was definitely not going to continue with Papa John’s very, very positive terms and I cheerlead from the sidelines for them on a constant basis. And it’s funny, I can still see some of the work that we did, as we redevelop the brand and the brand DNA in the viewing today. So that’s a lot of fun. But I knew that I was going to need to do something that was going to allow me to be present and available to my dad and I’m blessed that he is now 97 going on 98 And so that personal side is what also moved me from going to another cmo CBO type job to being on my own because it allows me that flexibility to you know, take dad to a doctor’s appointment or in December I actually took him to New York City for the first time for three days. Oh, ever been to New York City so I took him for Christmas. And I think women in particular are frustrated. by the fact that they can’t be their whole selves in a corporate environment. And it’s the reason you see so many women going on to do their own thing. I think there are companies that do it very well, and that there are companies that make themselves workable for any working parent that needs to have or any working caregiver that needs to have both their professional and their personal sides fit within that structure. But that’s also why so many people are starting businesses. So yeah, for me, it was both filling my professional bucket and allowing me to use what was really unique about my talents, and unique about my experiences in a certain way, but also to make sure that I’m I’m doing the things personally that light me up,

Lara Schmoisman 31:00
Would you go back to a corporate job?

Melissa Richards-Person 31:02
I what my role is is never say never. So, you know, a few years from now, who knows? I am always open to possibilities that are presented. But I have a different perspective now, on my on what I bring to the table,

Lara Schmoisman 31:23
I think, and what that’s amazing, that point of clarity to find out really, what’s the value that you can bring. And that’s something I going back to the beginning and they interview someone that somebody that I always learn to ask in interviews, what can you bring to the table? Yeah.

Melissa Richards-Person 31:44
Yeah. What can you bring to the table? And also, I always find, it’s so telling to hear? What are you most proud of? What thing that you did, or accomplishment or contribution are you most proud of? And it can be anything? And I’ve heard, I’ve heard incredible stories, and it gives a little bit of insight into who the person is, and what makes them tick. And what lights them up?

Lara Schmoisman 32:18
Yeah. Something to me is concerning when I do interviews, though, is I am ready to learn. And when they ask that question, and of course, I really expect someone to keep learning and keep learning, that’s a given. But in an interview, it’s something that is like, how can you come through here and going back again, and after beginning of the conversation? How can you contribute how they actually can connect with your team? Because at the end of the day, that’s what we do, we work together. And that’s how, as individuals, we’re going to be looking at data we’re going to be doing but I see the things from my point of view with my experiences, and I always value my team, like maybe someone from my graphic design team, can they see something from a different point of view? Because they are only looking at the design?

Melissa Richards-Person 33:14
Yeah, it’s a, you know, we when we turn when we started to work on the international business at Papa John’s, one of the things that that we figured out was that we had big problems that no one are big challenges, barriers, I should say that that nobody had really put effort against. And so one of the biggest keys was not just identifying those barriers, but to your point, bringing people together in teams that maybe weren’t necessarily the stereotypical functions or experiences or backgrounds that you would have brought to a team. So looking for complementary or unique perspectives as part of a team, I think, is is incredibly important. And it’s something that actually, I contribute. So when I come to a problem, one of the things that I look for is who has a unique perspective on this problem that maybe hasn’t been talked to, and how do I bring that perspective? I remember putting a person from global supply chain on the project around aligning our technology globally. Why? Because what he had already solved was how to adapt a specific need in different countries in different conditions. So he was facing and had solved a similar challenge, but this was just on a different time. bigger scale. So he could bring a different perspective to the technology experts who were part of.

Lara Schmoisman 35:06
And that’s so smart, but so smart of you. But the only way you did that is because if you really understood the business, and you understood how it work, it’s really hard to bring and to look outside the box. We don’t you don’t understand the whole thing, you cannot see the whole picture.

Melissa Richards-Person 35:27
Yeah, I think, talking a little bit about framing the problem. And, and really investigating the problem is, is also a big part of this. So I won’t, I won’t identify the company. But I was working with a client, who is looking to transform a set of businesses that developed before the pandemic, and then through the pandemic, based on the operational constraints around them. So when they started the business, it was one set of constraints. And then the pandemic put another set, so they started the second business, and then the laws changed. And they started this third business. Well, now they’re looking at how do I bring these all together, and make them a cohesive brand? So part of the the questions, and the defining of the problem, was really talking very specifically about the environment that each of those businesses was started in the customer base and the objectives of each of those businesses. And now, what is the future? What is the future look like? And how do how do the owners and and leaders see those businesses operating? And then my job is to help connect the dots and put it forward for them in maybe a way that they hadn’t seen it themselves? Because they were too close to it. And because they’ve lived through every one of those pivots.

Lara Schmoisman 37:22
Again, is full distance from the problem. – Yeah. Melissa, thank you. Thank you. Thank you for being here with us today was an amazing conversation.

Melissa Richards-Person 37:36
And thank you again, thank you so much, Lara, thank you for putting up with my with my cold and not speaking probably as well due to things as I put up.

Lara Schmoisman 37:48
Oh, it couldn’t be any better. Thank you so much. And to you guys, thank you for being here. Having some more coffee with me and I will see you next week. Find everything you need at LaraSchmoisman.com Or in the Episode Notes right below. Don’t forget to subscribe. It was so glad to have you here today. See you next time. Catch you on the flip side. Ciao ciao.

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