Marianne Radley is experiencing quite the homecoming. Not the fall foray with mums and marching bands, but a mid-career sojourn to a place the soul knows best. Enriching the experience: She’s simultaneously returning to nascent days at both school and work. “It’s great to come back to my roots,” the 50-year-old says between pulls on a cold longneck in Downtown Greenville. “To come back to Clemson, and to once again work for Pizza Hut, where I started as a dishwasher and hostess as a teen? It’s a nice convergence of the two.”
Clemson University and Pizza Hut are both rolling out the red carpet for the scrappy marketer, who’s made quite the name for herself. Forbes magazine recently praised Pizza Hut’s newest chief brand officer for being a “risk-taker,” and her “ability to think outside the box… on her non-traditional path to the top.” That path started at Clemson, where she majored in English and history. This fall, the ’94 grad visited campus multiple times, including one visit to speak before 150 students at the Erwin Center for Brand Communications. “It’s not lost on me talking here,” the die-hard Tiger says. “Of all the places I’ve spoken, this means the most. It’s such an honor. I love this school so much.”
The married mother of four is in high demand on the speaking circuit after molding a stellar marketing career loaded with a lot of firsts. The only first Radley likes to mention, however, is taking first place in product sales. But it’s hard to ignore her accomplishments, which include serving as Budweiser’s first-ever female brand manager. She worked at Anheuser-Busch InBev for 15 years, before moving on to launch Monster Energy drinks in 40 countries, as senior vice president of global marketing.
The self-described tomboy was also the only female in leadership at Duke Manufacturing, an industrial foodservice solution company.
“I’ve worked in very male-dominated industries,” she says. “I understand the uniqueness of having a woman in leadership. I understand the reason why it’s mentioned, that it shares with the community of women it is absolutely achievable. But I wrestle with it. I’d rather be known simply as chief brand officer.”
For the past 18 months, she’s tried to reignite Pizza Hut’s brand, after the long-time leader dropped to Domino’s in 2017. Her responsibilities include overseeing the brand’s advertising, digital marketing, consumer insights, culinary and quality assurance, as she works in tandem with leadership to create vision and strategy.
“I love this brand,” the high-energy executive says. “You never know what the future holds, but I do know you get very few opportunities in your career to turn around an iconic American brand.”
She revealed some of her strategies and inspiration with communication experts during Endeavor’s recent Collaborator & Cocktails series. Television commercials, social media posts, and YouTube videos were all part of the presentation profiling her campaigns that have worked, as well as a few that got banned and panned. “You have to have the guts to lead fearlessly,” she says. “You have to be bold enough to take risks, or you won’t connect.”
To reconnect with drifting Pizza Hut consumers, Radley’s utilizing old and new concepts. The new includes introducing Cheez-It Stuffed Pizza, partnering with the NFL, and expanding a beer delivery program, making Pizza Hut the only national pizza chain serving suds on wheels. The old involves honoring the company’s 61-year-heritage with a comeback of the red roof logo, and touchpoints diners used to embrace, including Tiffany-style lamps.
“We’ve seen an uptick in quite a few of our measurements,” she says. “I am proud, but dissatisfied. We are very proud of the work we’ve done, but we have to have a maniacal focus on the customer experience. We are on track, and now we need to deliver on the rest of it.”
Growing up in a boisterous Irish Catholic family, Radley learned to succeed amidst noise and pace. The pizza industry is calling upon her basal skill-set. “It’s the toughest category I’ve worked in,” she says. “It’s absolutely crowded. You’re getting the aggregators, the local players, the mom-and-pops, the value players. You put an ad on and you’ll see an immediate reaction to your business. It’s a quick and fast category.”
She sees the biggest challenge for all marketers as handling audience segmentation.
“It’s so sporadic and diverse,” she says. “When you see how audiences are changing, and how they’re getting their media, the customization people look for? They want what they want, when they want it, and you have to market to that.”
Radley’s built brands from the ground up, and helped vintage names regain a foothold. She knows the challenges ahead. “Making a brand relevant again is always harder,” she says. “People have muscle memory. They have recollections and perception of a brand. There is a brand love consumers have for Pizza Hut. We are having a much more confident tone, and being unapologetic about it.”
And after working coast-to-coast across her career, with this return to her roots, Radley says she hopes she’s now home to stay. “I’d love for this to be my last move and not have to move again. I loved working for Pizza Hut as a 16-year-old, and I love working there now.”
Marianne’s Marketing 101
#1 Trust your instinct and lead with your gut.
#2 Give your brand personality.
#3 Stand for something.
Favorite Spot on Campus: The library, especially when lit at night.
Favorite Spot in Greenville: Her old roommate’s house.
Favorite Southern Food: Grits & Huddle House hash browns
Miss the Most: The Creamery
Don’t Miss the Most: Mini bottles
Radley’s first job out of Clemson was teaching on an American Indian reservation in Montana.
Radley’s one of four females on Pizza Hut’s C-suite.
Advice for those entering the business: “The biggest thing is don’t be chasing a title. Don’t be chasing a paycheck. Every touchpoint is a learning opportunity.”