Participating in women’s leadership programs made me realize that I had a huge responsibility to pave the way for younger women.
As a part of my Marketing Strategy Series, I’m talking with fellow marketing pros at the top of their game to give entrepreneurs and marketers an inside look at proven strategies you might also be able to leverage to grow your business or career. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Stacey Pool.
Stacey has 20+ years of marketing experience at name-brand companies like Vail Resorts and Nike and was brought on to the Noodles & Company team right before the 2020 pandemic took hold. This year, Noodles & Company’s business has not only survived but remained stable and started a strong recovery with Stacey at the marketing helm.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! 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?
If any of you are familiar with business continuity plans, you can appreciate the details and testing that goes into ensuring they will work. My co-workers and I had prepared a very thorough plan but didn’t expect that we would actually have to activate it. Well, at 3 a.m. our websites went down and did not come back up for quite some time. Per the plan, it was time to take the next steps. We redirected all of the URLs to a staging website, but what we hadn’t tested is if the redirects were going to the right site. Once everything was redirected, we pulled up the site and realized we had pointed them to a Russian TV website. They stayed that way for at least 15 minutes. That doesn’t seem like a long time, but when you know people are trying to book their last-minute ski vacations, it seems like forever. We laugh about it now, but what that taught me is to make sure you test and execute every single part of a recovery plan so that if a worst-case scenario arises, you are in good shape.
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?
Absolutely. I even know the exact timing — March 2013. I call it my own heroes’ journey. The business I was leading was not performing well and my leader at the time was putting a lot of pressure on me and my team to turn it around. Rather than embrace the challenge, I shut down. Through that period, I learned a lot. I had seen a lot of success up to this point and was constantly recognized for my contribution. However, I needed constant confirmation from my leaders and family members to feel good about myself and my success. From that point on, I learned that I needed to believe that I was strong and smart on my own. I have spent a lot of time strengthening who I am as a person and leader, and will never stop improving. That year and the specific moment was a pivotal year for me and my career.
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?
I’m really proud of the whole Noodles & Company team. They have undergone a tremendous amount of internal and external change in 2020 and have stayed on track, while also giving back to the community and continuing to come up with creative and engaging ideas. I feel grateful that they all took a chance with me even though they might not have been familiar or comfortable with my leadership style. They fully embraced the situation and I am forever grateful to go through these challenging times with each and every one of them.
As well, I’m beyond grateful to my family who has been such a rock throughout this year. We recently moved to a farm in Northern Colorado and it has been so good for my soul. It brings me such joy to see my daughter talking to the neighbor’s animals, watching my son taking care of the chickens, or my dogs chasing each other in the backyard. I have really enjoyed working from home and seeing my family so much more than before. My husband and kids have endlessly supported me, for which I am always grateful.
Wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
Never stop reflecting on your personal actions, performance, and goals. My perspective is that someone’s ability to manage and regulate their emotions is key to thriving. Knowing the impact you want to have on someone is extremely important, which means you have to be very intentional on how you want to show up in every situation. If you are exhausted, then take a break. If you don’t, your exhaustion and emotional state may get the best of you which will likely be felt by the people around you. If you want to have a positive impact on your team and peers, you have to take care of yourself first. So, at the end of every day, take note of how you are doing and feeling. Recognize if you need to take a break so you can bring your best self to work the next day.
Consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. Where do you see the future of marketing headed?
I think we will continue to see companies focus on purpose-driven marketing. Consumers want to connect with brands they believe are driving social change. Noodles and Company core values resonate well with all consumers. We care deeply about our guests, communities, and team members and want to ensure that everyone can bring their whole self to our restaurants. We are passionate about the food we serve and how we serve it, and we are proud of the experience we provide. And for us, our great experience starts with taking care of team members first.
At Noodles, we believe in creating a culture that is based on our values of care, passion, pride, and loving life. When these values come to life collectively, our culture creates an inclusive and diverse environment for all team members, guests, and communities we serve. And, as a result, that culture shows up in everything we do. We must start with all of our employees. Our team members are the closest connection to the brand and ensuring we have created an inclusive environment that allows them to feel safe and accepted. In turn, they will deliver a guest experience that is special, welcoming, and differentiated.
Can you please tell us the 5 things you wish someone told you before you started?
- Recognize my role as a woman leader — I always believed I was equal to everyone around me. I didn’t realize that I worked hard for that and it wasn’t automatic. Participating in women’s leadership programs made me realize that I had a huge responsibility to pave the way for younger women. I take this very seriously now.
- Embrace change — Change is inevitable, the way you embrace it, move through it, and bring people along is a critical part of your success.
- Your past is part of your future — I had no idea how much my childhood and upbringing would contribute to my career. I have really learned to accept this vs. trying to ignore it.
- You can bring love into the workplace — I learned over time that it is okay to lead from the heart. It does not mean you won’t have to give tough feedback or push your team hard, but my belief is they will respond better if they know you care deeply about them and their success.
- You can’t have it all — When I first started my career, I wanted to be able to do everything perfectly — all at the same time. After I had kids, I realized something had to give. I was working non-stop while trying to be the perfect mom. I was emotionally and physically exhausted. Once I gave myself permission to be flexible and make mistakes, my energy and engagement changed. There are times when I need to be more present with my family and other times when work needs me. To me, “having it all” means the confidence and awareness that you won’t be perfect.
What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?
There are a few go-to’s that I read or reference frequently. I absolutely love the podcast CMO Moves. It has been very useful to me as I have transitioned to being a CMO. I highly recommend “The Leader 100-Day Action Plan” for anyone starting a new role or new job. I think it is important to be very intentional on how you want to show up on the first day, week, month, and year of any new opportunity. I also reference “The Leadership Pipeline” and recommend this book to new leaders very frequently. Your value and focus change a lot as you grow in your career and I think this book is a good reference for what is important at each stage of your career.
One more before we go: If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would love to see people and employers promote discussion around mental health. Every single person in the world is either directly impacted by mental illness or knows someone impacted. The increase in technology, social media, and other external pressures is greatly impacting every generation, and I wish everyone felt safer and more comfortable sharing their stories. Even if you don’t understand mental illness, show compassion and kindness. I think if we all approached one another this way then people would open up about their struggles and we would see suicide and depression rates decrease dramatically.
Thank you for taking the time to do this and for sharing so many fantastic insights with us!