Jann Parish: “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became the CMO of Green Growth Brands”

An Interview with Phil La Duke

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It’s okay to be vulnerable. The truth is your team looks to you and models your behavior. If you work 24/7, many will do the same or resent you for doing it. An open dialogue and creative work environment leads to the best output but only if you’re willing to be vulnerable in sharing your input.

As a part of our series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jann Parish, Chief Marketing Officer of Green Growth Brands. Jann is an experienced marketing executive in the consumer and lifestyle space. With over 18 years of proven leadership working for global consumer brands, Parish has cultivated brand development, marketing, and eCommerce organizations by building multi-faceted teams that deliver world-class results. Prior to Green Growth Brands, Parish led marketing strategies for venerable global brands such as Victoria’s Secret, Calvin Klein, and Tommy Hilfiger, the latter of the two are PVH companies. During 10 years at PVH Parish grew within the company through regional and global roles. In 2013, following the PVH acquisition of Warnaco, she was selected to lead the newly formed Calvin Klein Americas marketing team and ultimately rose to the role of Executive Vice President, Global Product Marketing, leading a marketing organization driving growth for an $8B franchise. Known for having a keen sense of ever-changing consumer wants, Parish has led transformational marketing campaigns such as “I _______ in #mycalvins” for Calvin Klein, which was targeted at the millennial consumer. The socially led initiative was one of the first of its kind, delivering both consumer buzz and resulting sales growth. The campaign opened new distribution channels for the Calvin Klein brand including Amazon and Urban Outfitters. It also received a Grand Clio for “Best Integrated Marketing Campaign” while reigniting global interest in the Calvin Klein brand. As part of the Calvin Klein expansion, Parish was integral in the growth and development of key franchise and license partnerships throughout the world. During her tenure at the brand, sales grew from $6B to over $8B. Jann Parish is a graduate of Texas Christian University with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in International Marketing and a minor in French. As an advocate for women and children, Parish has served on the Young Leaders on the Horizon board at Safe Horizon, has partnered with the Ronald McDonald House on its marketing committee and has worked with Dress for Success. She and her family currently reside in Columbus, Ohio.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Jann! What is it about the position of CMO the most attracted you to it?

If you had asked me what I wanted to be, at ages 7 or 17, I would have answered, “Anna Wintour.” The reality is that what I really wanted to do was create passion around a brand and, quite frankly, as the oldest sibling, I wanted to be the boss. As I grew up, Fashion became a means to express my creativity and harness that passion; add in some marketing classes in college and it all came together. As I matured, I grew into my leadership roles and worked hard to ensure a collaborative team-oriented leadership style.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CMO does, but in just a few words can you explain what a CMO does that is different from the responsibilities of the other executives?

The CMO needs to simultaneously live in the past, the present and the future. As the shift from traditional marketing tactics, such as print, gave way to digital and eCommerce plus the flow of information went from a steady flow to a deluge, the CMO learned to absorb all this data, form an opinion and create programs that can cut through all that noise. They take information from the other areas of the business to develop these programs and have never been as interlinked into the heart of the organization as they are under today’s new rules of engagement.

What were your biggest struggles throughout your professional life and how did you overcome them?

My own unrelenting push to grow in my career, while being the most I could be for my family, drove me to lose sight of how I was treating myself. The pressure was real, and it brought me to my knees. After a pause and rooting back inside myself, I learned that there’s a balance. No one can be 100% in everything at all times and I’ve learned to accept that with a laugh rather than bracing against my own self-criticism. It’s funny how we can be our own best champions but also our worst enemies.

I joined Green Growth Brands because it liberated me to recognize the balance, but most importantly, we make products that assist others in their pursuit of health and wellness. Amongst other causes, we’re keeping our eye on mental health and truly believe that the de-stigmatization and decriminalization of cannabis can shed light on healthy alternatives to mental wellness.

What are the biggest challenges faced by women CMOs that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Years ago, I read an article about how women, as they rise to the top, often diminish how they got there. We have our foot in the door and immediately apologize for possibly getting in someone else’s way. I think that stinks. My favorite part of being a strong woman leader is being a mentor, I’ve worked hard for my own success too and I’m proud to say it out loud. I feel that my male counterparts have never needed to explain themselves in the same way. We should all be allowed to be both good humans and successful business people under the same set of standards.

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being a CMO?

I love, love, love being with our consumer, inside a store or online and learning what makes them tick. What they need, what they don’t realize they need and creating innovative ways of compelling them to engage with the brands that I work with.

Today, in the cannabis industry, this new role is two-fold: responsibly introducing an amazing solution-oriented product while simultaneously de-stigmatizing its history. We appreciate those who brought us to this place and now being part of shaping the future is downright invigorating. I tell my team all the time that I thank my lucky stars that I have this chance to be part of this movement.

What are the downsides of being a CMO?

CMOs are in the often-precarious-but-never-dull role of being right out there — front and center for the organization, the consumer and the shareholder. That’s a lot of eyes, particularly in a space that is being simultaneously celebrated and questioned. It feels very daunting and I find myself having those moments of staring in the mirror and saying to myself, “you can do this”. Then I put my big girl pants on and get out there and get it done.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

A few weeks ago, I found myself putting on a clean suit and a hair net and walking into our cannabis cultivation facility. It was far from my first factory tour, I had been visiting apparel manufacturers for years. I’m in the middle of Las Vegas, just miles away from the strip, a landmark that you can literally see from space, surrounded by a plant with an incredibly complicated history.

A member of our grow team shared how the magic happens and I asked him where he went to school. He said to me, “I was really just a street rat. I was just lucky that someone believed in me and taught me how to do this.” It blew my mind, at the end of the day, it’s human ingenuity that creates the proverbial next and it doesn’t take a fancy degree to do that. So very cool.

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

In the early days of my time at Tommy Hilfiger, I worked with Tommy quite a bit, particularly as it pertained to TV spots we shot with Macy’s and their set of exclusive celebrity lines. On one of the shoots, I was standing out in front of the studio waiting with Tommy for our ride. While standing there, Martha Stewart walked up and stood next to us holding a pie she had brought for her segment. I tried to make myself small so as not to be in the way. At which point she turned and looked at me and gave me the pie. I was so flummoxed by the whole thing and instead of saying, “thank you”, I lead with, “what should I do with this?” She looked at me and said, “Well, a good choice would be to eat it.” Good point, Martha.

The big lesson here is to be open to unexpected opportunities. Think of all of the things we could have discussed — is this pie blueberry? How did you come from being an amazing host living in Connecticut to a world-renowned personality? Really anything. Second-guessing that decision will get me nowhere. When I got home, I ate that pie with my husband. It was indeed blueberry and it was delicious.

Specifically, what is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

Working in a startup after having spent the previous balance of my career in large corporations I had a mental image of what a CMO looks like. That CMO is VERY different than what my job has been like since I’ve started at Green Growth Brands. At its best, we are creating brands and consumer experiences from the ground up — they are no boundaries or preconceived notions of what something is supposed to be.

With that said, now that we’ve successfully launched Seventh Sense CBD with 100 shops are growing The+Source dispensaries and are months away from our first branded CAMP dispensary in Massachusetts. This is where you think you’d get to step back a bit and let things roll. Nope, our little hive on the 2nd floor in an office building by the airport is constantly challenging each other, our output and preparing for our next big thing. That’s the excitement of a true high-growth industry.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be a CMO, what specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful CMO and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be a CMO?

This is such a good question. Today’s CMO comes in all kinds of forms. Danielle Jamison, the Creative Director at Green Growth Brands, talks about being a “Swiss Army knife” when describing our organization and the need to wear many hats. I think that’s really astute. CMOs need to display that kind of flexibility in today’s world. There are many pieces of a sound marketing strategy and you have to be comfortable living in an always-on consumer environment.

To that end, I truly don’t think there’s a type of person who should avoid being a CMO. I would just say that you need to check your ego at the door. Good ideas and creativity can come from anywhere and it is very important to realize that.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

It’s okay to be vulnerable. The truth is your team looks to you and models your behavior. If you work 24/7, many will do the same or resent you for doing it. An open dialogue and creative work environment leads to the best output but only if you’re willing to be vulnerable in sharing your input.

Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader?

Currently, at Green Growth, we are focusing on the de-stigmatization and decriminalization of cannabis and are active in local chapters of organizations doing exactly this. I’m not the pioneer in the cannabis space, many individuals have come before me and have paved the path for us to follow. We owe it to them to recognize those sacrifices and help to shed light on their journey.

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?

I have two people who have meant the world to me as I have grown in my career, Cheryl Abel-Hodges, and Ken Duane. Cheryl is the newly minted CEO at Calvin Klein and we worked together on the Calvin Klein Underwear business. Working at Calvin at that point of my life was somewhat of an unintentional reckoning. People often fail to mention the leap you take once you cross into a senior leadership role. It’s the point where people either push forward or realize they are happier right where they are. Cheryl was there to provide an amazing example of what a female leader looks like. She was and continues to be brave where she needs to be and leads with integrity. I have modeled a lot of her style and I hope that it provides the same level of support to my team.

Ken was also at PVH and held a different role for me — he was the guy who could see through to the other side and really not-so-gently push me in the direction the business needed. Ken is a big personality in a small industry and he’s always done an amazing job of being available to people and ideas while staying focused on organizational success. That’s hard work and he has been great at showing me how to do it well.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

So much of how we get to where we’re going is how open we are to helping others along their way. This is the reality in the corporate space, but also in every aspect of our lives. My family and I are very active in the community and participate in all kinds of social programs. Professionally, I’ve had a lot of people who have helped me, this kid from Texas, along the way. I came to NYC only knowing a couple of people; they helped me, and I’ve paid it forward. I have mentored many young women and do whatever I can to be a connector for people as they go along their professional journeys.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. What’s old is new again. I remember hearing print is dead and direct mail is a waste of time just a few short years ago. Local marketing and awareness building are both back and better than ever in cannabis marketing.
  2. Startup life is not only different it’s also better. I have had the good fortune of working with all kinds of budgets at this point. Startups require a marketer to get creative and use all of their faculties. Add in the challenges of marketing in the cannabis space, namely regulations and maintaining compliance, and it is a sure way to keep all synapses firing.
  3. It’s about personal connection first. As I’ve become further settled in the cannabis space, I often hear about being the “Starbucks or Apple of Cannabis”. Getting to that level of expertise and point of comparison is flattering, but not realistic in an industry that has long been about a one-to-one connection.
  4. Your heart will melt regularly. Survival stories abound in this space and hearing in the first person about how cannabis has positively impacted a person’s life leaves you wanting to hug every individual who comes to you with his or her experience. I like the vulnerability of feeling that way. I aim to keep that in mind as Green Growth Brands continues to expand.
  5. Don’t fall into previous tropes. Yes, cannabis has been a male-dominated category and much of the marketing has been geared towards a bro mentality. But responding to that is entry stakes. Proactively presenting solution-oriented products that are both democratic and formulated beautifully is what will put a brand in the lead. That’s where our heads have been at with our Seventh Sense CBD brand. CBD for All.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

No question — mental health. We are in the middle of a global pandemic of epic proportions. We’re lifting the stigma off of so many previously taboo subjects yet as much as we talk about them on our social feeds and in the day today, I don’t see the focus on the humanity of mental well-being. Cannabis-based products have the reputation of helping with positive mental health, but they are not a cure-all. My hope is that the Green Growth Brands can achieve the success necessary so we can champion and give back to organizations who seek to contribute to and improve global mental health and wellness, amongst other causes.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“What got you to here won’t get you to next.” I heard this quote for the first time somewhere around 2013 as I was just starting my position at Calvin Klein. I had functional expertise in marketing for sure but I was thrust into a role helping transition two flagship businesses that had been recently acquired through the purchase of Warnaco by Calvin Klein/PVH. I was carrying on as the do-er, but I had to be both the do-er and the leader and adjust my approach. It took time and lots of trial and error, but I figured it out. I have come to realize that this happens in my life whether from a personal or professional standpoint quite often. I do my best to roll with it and stay open, after all, whatever has gotten me here isn’t going to be what is going to get me to next.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

So many choices…if I had to just pick one, I’m going to throw caution to the wind and pick two. I’d love to meet Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie. It is unbelievably cool to me that two women in the notoriously male-dominated world of journalism rose to such esteemed positions and they did it while seemingly keeping sight of themselves and their characters. I’d love to hear about it first hand from the two of them. That’s true grace.

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