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A conversation with Rob Elliot, EVP at Hungry Howie’s

Rob has had an exciting career in franchise marketing, specifically in the quick-service restaurant category. He has worked with companies and brands including Little Caesar’s Enterprises, Bozell Worldwide, Quiznos Subs, and Papa Murphy’s Take’n’Bake Pizza. Rob is now Executive Vice President of Strategic Marketing at Hungry Howie’s. Before we dig in, our readers would love […]

Rob has had an exciting career in franchise marketing, specifically in the quick-service restaurant category. He has worked with companies and brands including Little Caesar’s Enterprises, Bozell Worldwide, Quiznos Subs, and Papa Murphy’s Take’n’Bake Pizza. Rob is now Executive Vice President of Strategic Marketing at Hungry Howie’s.

Before we dig in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Ihad the opportunity to interview for a job in the pizza category, working for an entrepreneurial owner. I’ve worked in the highly competitive QSR category my entire career. I call it “intense retail”. In this retail category, it’s important that you maximize your advertising investment to drive sales every day. You can never rest. You have to always be totally tuned into new or emerging media and creative ideas.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We’ve all made mistakes. I take mistakes as a learning opportunity and really feel like everyone is going to make mistakes. It’s up to you to not make them twice and to coach your team accordingly. There’s always a chance for process improvement and learning.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

The tipping point was back in the 1990s when I hired Cliff Freeman Partners as an advertising agency and learned the importance of breakthrough creative materials. Cliff was Creative Director for Wendy’s “Where’s the beef?” campaign years ago, but he always dealt with challenger brands to maximize impact through best-in-class creative materials. The takeaways that can be learned from this are to develop outstanding creative materials. In 1992, because of these insights, the brand I was with was voted the best campaign in America as reported by Wall Street Journal, USA Today, voted on by video story boards. That story tells that, with a fraction of a budget, you can develop a brand that people love and respect.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

At Hungry Howie’s, our RTBs (reasons to believe) are that we make our dough fresh daily at every store, use 100% real mozzarella cheese, and invented Flavored Crust Pizza®. In every creative project, we always leverage these RTBs to punctuate our point of difference.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We have many exciting projects from a product development and marketing standpoint. What I think is the most exciting is digital media, because of its geo-targeting abilities, full transparency, and simplicity. Everyone has a mobile device, so that presents great opportunities for brand building and sales conversion.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

You have to do what you love. There isn’t a day I’ve come to work that I haven’t enjoyed. You also have to enjoy that retail chase — what’s the next big idea? What can we do different or better? You need to wake up every morning thinking about what you can do different or better.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

In my career, I’ve been blessed because I’ve fortunately always worked with a strong operational team to help fulfill the marketing promise. It’s important to have a strong operational team in place to execute the marketing promise and execution is worshipped.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There are hundreds of memorable marketing campaigns that have become part of the lexicon of our culture. What is your favorite marketing or branding campaign from history? Can you explain why you like that so much?

There are great campaigns in every industry, but being an expert in QSR, I really admire Chick-fil-A’s “eat mor chikin” campaign. It was grounded in outdoor billboards, utilizing breakthrough and memorable cows requesting customers to “eat mor chikin”. The cow images were very demonstrative, but the most important part of the campaign is that Chick-fil-A was able to deliver on their marketing promise. Chick-fil-A obviously wanted consumers to eat more chicken. The campaign was designed to drive customers to eat more chicken, using the cow as an icon during a time when consumers were eating a lot of burgers, and was very effective.

If you could break down a very successful campaign into a “blueprint”, what would that blueprint look like? Please share some stories or examples of your ideas.

The blueprint is understanding your audience and supporting your company’s marketing values. At Hungry Howie’s, our marketing values are to brutally defend our Flavored Crust® position, support our RTBs, market aggressively with a vertically integrated campaign, utilize aggressive price points to generate profitable sales, and embrace technology.

Companies like Google and Facebook have totally disrupted how companies market over the past 15 years. At the same time, consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. In your industry, where do you see the future of marketing going?

In the QSR industry, I still feel we need to embrace an integrated marketing plan, utilizing broadcast, print, local store marketing, and digital. Digital marketing provides the biggest future opportunity, due to targeting capabilities and transparency of results to continue to optimize the planning process.

Can you please tell us the 5 things you wish someone told you before you started? Can you please share a story or example for each.

  1. Understand the customer (demographically and psychographically) to target advertising
  2. Understand the brand, its core marketing values and promise
  3. Understand media that will deliver your message at the aperture of opportunity to drive interest in sales
  4. Develop creative materials to communicate the brand’s personality and breakthrough the clutter
  5. Stay true to your instincts; don’t be swayed or deviate based on peer pressure

Can you share a few examples of marketing tools or marketing technology that you think can dramatically empower small business owners to become more effective marketers?

Today, small business has a unique advantage that they didn’t used to because of technology and because of digital media. We now can geo-target ads to a specific trading area to communicate with consumers or potential consumers. With social and digital display, we can use video content to tell a branding story. And obviously, search converts to sales. Understanding the customer and communicating to them via digital platforms can maximize a small business owner’s advertising investment and generate sales.

What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?

I’m a big conference guy. I like to go to a few a year. And I’m intense — I want to hear the best of the best in order for them to lead, guide, and inspire my marketing skillset.

Who is your hero? Can you explain or share a story about why that person resonates with you?I really have to put my parents into the role of heroes. They 

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