Gatorade's Alston Trades One 'Team' for Another

Ex-CMO Feels Pull of Home After 20 Years at PepsiCo Unit

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CHICAGO ( -- You don't build a brand by avoiding risks. And in helping build Gatorade into a megabrand, Cindy Alston made her fair share of tough choices. This week she made another, resigning as chief marketing officer of Gatorade and Propel after more than two decades with the "team."
Cindy Alston
Cindy Alston Credit: Callie Lipkin

"It's purely personal and probably been a couple of months in the making," Ms. Alston said. "A working mom is always a juggle of balancing work need and work passions with family needs and family passions. Right now, the family needs have intensified and it seemed the right time after a very long career and a career I'm proud of to focus on my family."

She joked that she's hired out for a host of domestically based roles from cleaning and lawn services to personal chef.

Some roles easier to fill
"The one thing you can't hire out for you is the role of mother and wife," she said. "My role at Gatorade can more easily be played by others than my role at home. There are plenty of capable people at Gatorade and Propel who can fill my shoes."

Ms. Alston became CMO, a newly created position, only last September after leading Gatorade communications, under titles such as VP-equity development, during some of the brands biggest years. She joined Gatorade in May 1989. Today Gatorade volume is nearly a billion gallons and is now the country's sixth-largest liquid-refreshment megabrand.

"No one individual on this brand can claim credit for everything we've accomplished," she said, eager to share the spotlight for the company's successes. "Gatorade is all about teams and team sports and our success in the marketplace is all about the team and a team that's been built and cultivated over the years. Winning together is greater than winning alone."

Proud accomplishments
Among her most proud accomplishments was the risky decision in 1998 to shift Gatorade's already successful ad theme "Life's a sport. Drink it up" to "Is It in You?"

"We moved to a campaign where people were crying, bleeding and sweating colors," she said, adding that despite the buzz around the move, "we were sure it was the right platform for the future."

Similarly, she also cited the move from Propel's visually arresting "Drop" campaign to its months-old "Fit Is a Feeling" campaign, via Element 79 Partners, Chicago, as another proud moment.

More than anything, her greatest satisfaction comes from the relationship she has had with her agency partners. "It's unique in the industry," she said. "Not one of our partners thinks of themselves as a vendor."

Her Successors
As a result of her exit, Gatorade has eliminated the CMO title and brand communications duties will be split between Matt Knott, elevated to VP-marketing for Gatorade from marketing director for Propel; and Dustin Cohn, elevated to marketing director for Propel from director of innovations for Gatorade and Propel. In addition, Monica Young will return to Gatorade as director of business unit innovation from marketing director-golden grains under PepsiCo's Quaker Oats Co. unit. They will each report directly to Todd Magazine, president of Gatorade and Propel.

While Gatorade is facing pricing pressures in supermarkets, Ms. Alston is unfazed.

"Propel and Gatorade are poised for greatness," she said. "There's no question in my mind they're thriving and will be well-positioned in the marketplace. They're brands consumers have great passion and affinity for and that will carry them well into the future."

As for her own future, she left open the possibility of re-entering corporate life later. "I'm not retiring," she said.
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