Player Profile: Talking the talk part of job for urban marketing chief

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When Randy Melville took the job as head of Pepsi-Cola Co.'s urban-marketing initiatives, perhaps his greatest skeptic was his eldest son, a 12-year-old extrovert.

"At first, he didn't think I was cool at all, but when I started talking about Sisqo and Busta Rhymes and Wyclef [Jean], he was like, `Whoa! Dad, I didn't know you knew that,"' he said. "My cool meter has gone way up."

Like any self-respecting father of three, Mr. Melville wasn't all that tight ("happening," for those who aren't) until he took the job at the country's No. 2 soft-drink marketer, which is stepping up its 55-year attempt to win the hearts, minds and wallets of American minorities. Now, rather than sinking into an autobiography or the sports page in his off time, Mr. Melville settles in with Vibe, Slam and other arbiters of cool.

"My education is what the urban consumer is wearing ... what is driving their tastes and music because the urban consumer is influencing the majority consumer, so it's important that we have our hand on the pulse of what their likes and dislikes are," he said.

Now, as Pepsi's VP-urban marketing, Mr. Melville is in charge of driving Pepsi's brands in the inner city. The Purchase, N.Y., company-with its legions of researchers-has a great deal of demographic data, he noted. But results from the recent federal census reinforce its focus on inner cities, which have experienced an explosion-particularly of Hispanics-in the past decade. The company plans to expand its target to include Asians in addition to blacks and Hispanics.


"This job requires one to have a pretty keen understanding of the consumer. Marketers that don't understand the transformation that's happening in the inner city [are shortchanging themselves]. ... I think that's a lost opportunity," he said. "Speed equals share."

It seems like Mr. Melville, who was born in Trenton, N.J., 41 years ago, has been groomed for this job from the start.

From the inner city, Mr. Melville took a detour 13 miles away at Princeton University, where he graduated in 1981 with a B.A. in sociology. At the time, he thought he'd become a lawyer, but those plans were derailed by a summer internship at Procter & Gamble Co. The world's largest advertiser and consumer-products giant steered him toward marketing for the first time.

"I've always been fascinated with institutions and how they influence people, companies that have a leadership position, [and] how do you motivate and inspire people to buy something?" he said.

He spent 13 years in sales and brand-management positions at P&G, then shifted to sales and marketing jobs at Pepsi sibling Frito-Lay from 1993 to 1999. He took a 19-month hiatus from package goods when he went to work with Maytag Corp.'s then-CEO Lloyd Ward in Iowa, signing on as senior VP-sales. In March, Mr. Melville started at the PepsiCo unit, succeeding Steve Horn, who briefly had the job before moving to Coca-Cola Enterprises. Mr. Melville said urban marketing is not all that different from mainstream efforts.

"The dynamics that motivate a consumer to buy are the same whether they are a minority or a majority consumer. It's all around a value proposition," he said. As for the dynamics of cool, Mr. Melville hears from his eldest offspring. "He's pretty urban and pretty hip, so he keeps me in line with what's in style and in vogue-or not."

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