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Knapp aims to wake Safety-Kleen's sleepy marketing efforts

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In July, Curtis Knapp was named the first CMO in the history of Plano, Texas-based Safety-Kleen Systems. He joined the company in 2008 as VP-channel marketing. Knapp, now senior VP-CMO, was elevated to his current role by new Safety-Kleen President-CEO Robert Craycraft, who charged him with revitalizing the company's marketing efforts. Knapp plans to put the experience he gained as a marketing executive for Castrol Ltd. and Waste Management to work at Safety-Kleen. CMO Close-Up: What in your past experience prepared you for this job? Knapp: There are basically two sides to Safety-Kleen: the oil recycling business and the parts washer, environmental services business. I ran marketing for the No. 1 retailer in motor oil, Castrol. And I ran marketing for the No. 1 waste removal service company in America, Waste Management. So you put those two together, and you have very good experience to run marketing at Safety-Kleen. CMO Close-Up: Sustainability seems to be a critical marketing message at Safety-Kleen? Knapp: That's true. We're about 75% of recycled oil refining capacity in North America, and we're looking at adding a third large refinery to further expand our leadership on the oil recycling side. Quite frankly, we've lost market share on the environmental services side. So how do we re-energize so that we can grow again? CMO Close-Up: How do you plan to regain market share? Knapp: Over the years, we've lost our way with regard to marketing. We've restructured staffing down to where it's almost nothing. We were just out there selling on price, and we didn't understand our business the way we needed to. We're still the leader because we're the largest; but we've failed to lead, and we need to understand our customers' needs better, which we're going to do. CMO Close-Up: In your first weeks on the job, what can you say about the message you plan to communicate and the media you plan to use? Knapp: To be successful in marketing you have to have the right message in the right media. Frankly, we have a lot of work to do on the message, and we have a lot of work to do with the media. With our website, we're doing a minimal amount with search engine optimization. We've done virtually nothing on social. We have to significantly improve our online. We have to do some more online advertising and more print advertising. We've let our collateral for our salespeople fall apart. In all areas of communication, we need to improve. CMO Close-Up: It seems like the new CEO, Robert Craycraft, who took over earlier this year, is focused on marketing. Is that accurate? Knapp: When I was with Castrol, he was with Valvoline. He was always trying to catch Castrol. He's a CEO with a very, very strong brand focus and marketing focus. It's up to me, first and foremost, to rebuild the structure of the marketing department and put the resources together to do what we need to do. It's a relatively blank sheet of paper to do what we need to do. CMO Close-Up: Do you plan to continue Safety-Kleen's NASCAR sponsorship? Knapp: That's something that we've done for years, and it's something we're going to continue. I had a lot of experience with motor sports marketing at Castrol and at Waste Management. When you have a workforce that has a lot of drivers (as Safety-Kleen does, NASCAR) is a property that connects with a large percentage of our employees. We have a lot of work we need to do on safety improvement. We're going to be leveraging NASCAR to enhance programs to drive better safety and the productivity performance of our staff in general—drivers specifically. We also have an opportunity to better use that for driving new revenue. We've tried out a couple of things recently with some of our salespeople where we offered up some potential tickets and entertainment if they built the business above a certain level. CMO Close-Up: How do you plan to revitalize the Safety-Kleen brand? Knapp: We've engaged two branding agencies (Sandstrom Partners, Portland, Ore., and Cramer-Krasselt, New York). We're going to evolve the message. Before we do that I want to make sure that we've rigorously identified our value proposition and reenergized our two main brands. The core messaging has been a problem. We haven't done anything new for 10 years. We think we'll have that work available at the end of the third quarter, and then we'll have everything we need to create a new website, to create new advertising, to create collateral.
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