How Nigel Travis' Marketing Visions Mix Pizza and Movie Rentals

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Who: Nigel Travis, president-CEO of Papa John’s Pizza.

Why you need to know him: The former president and chief operating officer of Blockbuster intends to bring fun back fun to the No. 3 pizza chain while growing the brand abroad by tapping into various
Nigel Travis is the former president of Blockbuster and the current CEO of Papa John's Pizza. He's changed hats but not marketing visions.

forms of entertainment to promote and sell more pizza. That includes everything from distributing DVDs with pies to partnering with independent video retailers.

Credentials: Mr. Travis joined Blockbuster in 1994 as senior vice president for international, helping to expand the brand overseas, and worked his way up to president and chief operating officer. Last year, he launched an in-store gaming department called Game Rush. While there, he also brokered a deal with Pizza Hut to offer a free VHS/DVD rental of new releases with the purchase of a pizza. He earlier worked for Burger King Corp. when it was owned by Grand Metropolitan, starting as head of human resources but eventually taking over as managing director for Europe, Middle East and Africa. He recently resigned from the board of directors of the Video Software Dealers’ Association, but remains active with its members.

You’ve said pizza and movies go together. How do you intend to play that out at Papa John’s? “The fast food most appropriate for eating at home is pizza and all the research worldwide confirms that the right thing to do is to sit down and watch a movie and share a meal with your family or friends. At Blockbuster we tried several times to put meals together [with movies]. We tested putting pizza stores into Blockbuster, which worked out well, but we unfortunately couldn’t figure out how to work it out. People see a natural affinity between pizza and movies. It’s amazing how many people come up to me and said, ‘You should put a pizza operation in your store,’ so we will continue to keep that thought in mind.”

You’ve said Papa John's could improve its DVD marketing despite some successes. Mr. Travis said the company helped spur sales with a DVD promotion called the Pizza and Entertainment deal and its first-ever major film tie-in with Paramount Pictures’ Lemony Snicket's a Series of Unfortunate Events. That promotion included a large pie with up to five toppings and a limited edition CD-ROM of the film for $13.99. But plans to continue the tie-in with the DVD release of the film were scrapped in the wake of the July departure of Chief Marketing Officer Gary Langstaff.

What didn’t work? “Perhaps it wasn’t the right execution. It probably overcomplicated our operation with all these DVDs. And as some kind of expert on movies I think we may not have had chosen the right movies.” Mr. Travis said he didn’t know what happened with Lemony Snicket because the program was stopped before he joined.

You put together the idea for The Apprentice spoof ad that aired during the episode featuring Domino’s Pizza in which Papa John's “fires” the competition and says to skip the amateurs for pizza made by professionals. How did those ads come about? “Two weeks ago at a franchise meeting, I told the franchisees that having great competition keeps you agile and that I intend to compete strongly. That Wednesday night in my room I was working on the Internet -- I’m an Internet freak -- and I had gone down all the headlines of the competition and it said Domino’s would be on The Apprentice. I thought we could have some fun with it. The next day in the meeting I said, ‘Do you want to be competitive?’ They liked the idea of somehow getting on the show, so in less than a week we put a spot on The Apprentice as just a vehicle to be competitive. We also came up with the idea that we could link it to a good PR campaign and a newspaper ad campaign where we effectively used USA Today. When they actually made a meatball pizza, we were flabbergasted and stumped.” [On the episode of The Apprentice, the winning team developed a Mangia Meatball pizza. The Papa John's ads that ran during the show touted the chain's Spicy Meatball pizza offering.]

You’re looking for a new chief marketing officer. What are you looking for in a CMO? “I see this as a critical appointment for the company. It’s a heaven-sent opportunity for the right marketer. Traditional media is becoming more broken up, split up as people focus more on individual marketing. But I’m also looking for people who can take advantage of our database with one-to-one marketing through direct mail and that probably requires a different set of skills than people who just worked on advertising programs in the past. A lot of retailers will give their right arm for information we have about our customers. It’s how you take advantage of that info that is really critical and a major part of this job.”

You say you’re an Internet freak. Do you have designs on how to take advantage of the Web? “Blockbuster ended up having the best site through a lot of testing and retesting. We have here a very good online operation. We’ve got a large number of customers, in fact millions of customers, who use our online operation. We intend to keep evolving it.”

What’s your philosophy on branded entertainment? Mr. Travis said he would like to find ways to make it fun for customers who are waiting in stores for pizzas and is looking at compatible products that customers could buy to give them a fun and enjoyable experience while they wait. That could include music or TV-related items. “We’re looking at all of this and have made no decisions. We’ve got a good opportunity on the retail side with an opportunity for people at take out. We could capitalize on that trend by making retail part of the store to make it more fun and exciting. I like to believe that fun already goes through our brand. I’m just trying to take this through everything else we do. I said at Burger King and later at Blockbuster that our marketing has to be fun. We’re in a fun business. People don’t go home to have a serious time eating pizza.”

You’ve mused that there were opportunities to franchise with independent video stores or chains. How so? “We will be going to the Video Store Dealers Association convention in July to present our franchise opportunities. The skills to run a video store are very similar skills to run a Papa John’s. People skills, operational skills, management skills. Some of these people may desire to put a Papa John's in their stores or set up a separate store. I think this is a natural. We’ve really got no experience to base it on. Every area is different and this is a complex country. I think the natural allegiance between the two concepts and allegiance in the way they’re operated makes pizza a natural partner for people who run video stores.”

How about music? “I went in one of our [rare] dine-in restaurants two days ago and one thing missing was music. I come from a retailing background where you should try and touch the senses of your customer. I mean everything: smell, hear, see, taste, touch. I really think that music was missing in this restaurant. This is a fun concept and we have to build fun into what we do and I think music has a place.” In the past, Papa John’s did experiment with Music Match and Coca-Cola with branded beverage carriers. “We’ve experimented a little in that area but probably only scratched the surface.”

Former CMO Gary Langstaff left abruptly last July and it was rumored to have been because he took Chairman John Schnatter out of the ads. Do you intend to keep John in the ads? “I’m very pleased with the advertising right now. It’s gone very well. We’re encouraged by what comes out of those comp sales, particularly with our meatball pizza. Based on research, I’ve read [Mr. Schnatter's ads] have very high awareness and based on my own homegrown research I’m amazed by how many people recognize him, talk about him. When he wasn’t in the ads, our results weren’t as good as when he was. If the new CMO comes to me and says ‘I’ve got a brand-new concept, there is a better way to get to our consumers,’ I’ll listen. But right now, I think I’d be foolish to change it.”

Since you’re in the fun business, what do you do for fun? “I’m a sports fanatic, from soccer, cricket, American football, golf, tennis,­­ you name it. The only sport I don’t like is rugby. I’m having great fun at the moment with my young son (8-weeks-old and he has a 25-year-old son as well). My wife and I love the arts, from rock concerts to classical to museums. I’ve always traveled a lot. I have an English soccer team, Leyton Orient, and I’ve supported them now for 47 years. I like the Miami Dolphins, the Texas Rangers baseball team and I’ve got a new affiliation with the Louisville Cardinals.”

Do you have a favorite film?Evita. The reason I like it is the music is great. I saw the stage production before the film. Madonna was wonderful and Andrew Lloyd Webber is a great Brit.

What’s on your iPod? Mr. Travis said he listens to Phil Collins, soul music from the 1960s, Kenny G, U2 and even Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. He has 1,800 songs on his iPod.

Is there any other media you’re intrigued by? “I’m very intrigued by the whole concept of one-to-one marketing. I’m interested in the whole concept of satellite radio. Not just putting a commercial on network TV. The whole marketing field is going to change dramatically over the next few years and the choices of media and choices of messages is going to be so varied. A person traveling at lunchtime getting pizza should get a different message from the person at night watching a ballgame.”
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