Pizza Hut brand chief wants to give consumers 'reason to believe'

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Marianne Radley, chief brand officer, Pizza Hut U.S.
Marianne Radley, chief brand officer, Pizza Hut U.S. Credit: Pizza Hut

Marianne Radley wasn't looking to leave Monster Energy. But when she was approached about a new job and found out it was with Pizza Hut, she quickly changed her mind.

"My first job, actually, was with Pizza Hut. I was a dishwasher and then a hostess, and then when I finally turned 18 I got to be a waitress," Radley says, fondly reflecting on her teenage years in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. "As a marketer for the past 20 years I've always kept an eye on the Pizza Hut brand. ... Honestly, I just felt as though the brand didn't have a consistent message."

Now at Pizza Hut, she has her work cut out for her. The chain, which turns 60 this year, ceded the top-selling pizza ranking to Domino's in 2017 and has churned through five creative agencies in less than a decade. Currently, it's searching for yet another.

"Pizza Hut the brand has lost much of its unique meaning and energy, I think, in the past 20 years," says Radley, who joined as U.S. chief brand officer in February after serving as senior VP of global marketing at Monster Energy. "The core foundation is there and the reason to believe behind the brand is there, we just have to dust them off."

Some of the focus, she says, should be on improving the company's use of data and consumer insights, and how it interacts with patrons. "We're a company that's stuck in a transaction mindset, and we need to pivot to a customer lifetime mindset," says Radley.

Pizza Hut's overhaul already includes franchisees committing more to advertising, per an agreement reached in 2017. And Pizza Hut has hired thousands more delivery drivers and introduced pouches that keep pizzas warmer. It's also testing beer delivery in several markets in Arizona, with plans to expand to California. By early May, Pizza Hut expects to have 100 stores testing beer delivery.

There are early signs of momentum. Pizza Hut's U.S. same-store sales rose 2 percent in fourth quarter of 2017, after holding steady in the third quarter following four consecutive quarterly declines, according to company reports. But the last year Pizza Hut U.S. posted a full year positive same-store sales gain was a 1 percent rise in 2015. By comparison, Domino's U.S. same-store sales have risen annually since 2009.

Transaction insights data from Technomic "showed Pizza Hut with some share gains, seemingly at the expense of Papa John's," early this year says Andy Barish, a Jeffries analyst. "Domino's continues to gain share, Papa John's continues to lose share and Pizza Hut in two of the last three months has also been a share gainer."

Pizza Hut's first-quarter results are due from parent company Yum Brands in early May.

Pizza Hut's internal team has gone through some changes. Zipporah Allen became U.S. CMO in January, taking over from David Timm, who now works as chief marketing capability officer at Collider, a marketing consultancy Yum acquired in 2015. (Jeff Fox, co-founder of Collider, was Pizza Hut's chief brand and concept officer from 2015 until December.) Others reporting to Radley include Heath Hammett, hired as VP of customer acquisition and analytics, and Tim Benner, the chain's relatively new director of consumer insights.

Pizza Hut's relationship with Droga5 is set to end in June. Droga5 won the account in May 2016, following Deutsch, which had it from July 2014 until 2016. McGarryBowen's brief tenure ran from September 2013 until July 2014. The Martin Agency held the account from December 2009 until 2013. BBDO was Pizza Hut's creative agency from 1987 until 2009, holding on even as the account went up for grabs several times during that tenure.

"We need to invest in an agency as much as we want to get out of an agency. We need to spend the time with them and get to know them and really do the due diligence," says Radley. "It's no secret, I understand, the amount of agencies Pizza Hut has had through the revolving door. And we have to question, at some point, is the process right selecting those agencies?"

One thing that seems likely to stick around is the tagline Droga5 introduced in 2016.

Yum! Brands Inc. Pizza Hut signage stands outside a restaurant in Cave City, Kentucky, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017.
Yum! Brands Inc. Pizza Hut signage stands outside a restaurant in Cave City, Kentucky, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. Credit: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

"I really like 'No One OutPizzas the Hut,'" says Radley. "We are a classic brand, we've been here for 60 years, we need to own that but we need to really elevate ourselves into a more contemporary approach. And I think that 'No One OutPizzas the Hut' gives us a little bit of that swagger and boldness and I look forward to seeing what we can do going forward with it."

Pizza Hut hopes to have work from its new creative agency out in the market before the end of 2018.

While it has gone through numerous creative shops, its relationship with shopper marketing agency TracyLocke dates back to 1996.

Pizza Hut recently hired CAA as its sports marketing agency. Pizza Hut will have a presence at this month's NFL Draft after grabbing NFL pizza sponsorship duties this year after Papa John's departed. Radley, whose go-to Pizza Hut order is pan pizza with green olives and pork sausage, also wants to do more with the NCAA. Pizza Hut is the athletic association's official pizza sponsor under a deal that currently runs through 2019.

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