"I came in, and the plan should have been out," Ms. Tio recalls. "It was pretty rough going-baptism by fire. But in the end, you wouldn't have it any other way. The more challenging it is, the more you feel like you've accomplished something."
What she and her team accomplished was boosting Kahlua sales to the highest point since 1992 and helping the 63-year-old brand become hip via striking advertising. She spearheaded the change from a trade to a consumer focus, and she integrated advertising, interactive and public relations efforts. Kahlua shop BBDO Worldwide, Chicago, a unit of Omnicom Group, had been on the roster since September 1998.
Ms. Tio arrived at Allied Domecq in June 1999 and nine months later was named group marketing director for Kahlua and Canadian Club whiskey. Kahlua is Allied Domecq's biggest domestic seller and only brand to advertise on U.S. TV, but its 1999 sales were 8% less than when the '90s started, according to industry publication Impact. Ms. Tio, 36, says Canadian Club is one of its top priorities, but sales have been sliding for a decade.
Amid recession worries, Ms. Tio must ensure consumers don't start pinching pennies on liquor. A liter of Kahlua runs about $22. "When you do have an economic downturn, [you want] consumers to be so loyal to their brand and so used to consuming it that they won't turn to a cheaper brand," she says.
Ms. Tio's family, who emigrated from Indonesia in 1971 to escape persecution of ethnic Chinese, had wanted her to be a doctor. But the skiing and scuba enthusiast found marketing more dynamic and believed it would allow her more interaction with people. Ms. Tio says she was drawn to consumer products because of their visibility. "If you're not growing, if you're not having fun at the same time, I think you're losing out," she says, "and if there is any opportunity [to have fun and grow], this is it."