Papa John’s Pizza Enlists Pollard Search Group to Find CMO

The top marketing position continues to gain traction as a key driver of growth within organizations. Let’s take a closer look at the demand that executive recruiters are experiencing for CMOs.

June 7, 2017 – As business becomes more global and complex, and power shifts from producers of goods and services to consumers, a chief marketing officer’s job of planning and coordinating marketing activities has become more challenging, according to recruiters. But executive search firms are having no shortage of assignments for this important C-level position.

The latest instance: Papa John’s Pizza has named Brandon Rhoten as global chief marketing officer. Assisting in the search was Hudson, MA-based Pollard Search Group. Founder and managing partner Stephen Pollard led the assignment for the Louisville-headquartered pizza delivery company. The firm completed the search in just 67 days.

“We were asked to find a world-class marketing leader steeped in digital / social as well as traditional marketing from a top-tier restaurant / retail company of similar size and scale,” said Mr. Pollard. “The successful candidate needed to have a demonstrated, successful track record as a marketing leader in an organization that had a large franchise component — Papa John’s itself is 75 percent franchised — and to be able to build strong relationships with the franchisees who fund much of the marketing dollars.”

Candidates were also required to have an international marketing background, said Mr. Pollard. Papa John’s has recently seen considerable growth in its brand around the world. Of its 5,100 restaurants, 1,600 are in 45 countries,

“Fourteen candidates were presented, primarily other CMOs, from good-sized, successful restaurants chains,” Mr. Pollard said. “We also had four CMOs from retail ready to present but Papa John’s wanted to move forward with the restaurant candidates first.”

Mr. Pollard founded Pollard Search Group in 1999, specializing in the search and selection of top-level professionals in all functional areas, with substantial focus on the restaurant / hospitality / retail, consumer packaged goods and advertising industries. The firm has completed marketing officer searches for Boston Market, Papa Gino’s / D’Angelo’s and Ferrara & Company.


As CMO Post Evolves, Role of Recruiters Seen As Pivotal
Recruiters bring hard-won insights when searching for CMOs, say hiring executives, that are tough to replicate — even by in-house functions that purportedly know where the absolute best talent can be found. In this function, at least, who you know matters as much as what you know.


Proven Marketing Executive

Previously, Mr. Rhoten worked as vice president of advertising, media and digital / social for Wendy’s International. There, he is said to have earned a reputation as a disruptor with breakthrough, sales-driving work, helping the company grow same store sales for 17 consecutive quarters. Mr. Rhoten also helped re-establish the brand’s positioning in traditional and digital creative channels, leading to dozens of headline-grabbing marketing successes like #NuggsforCarter, which is said to have eclipsed Ellen Degeneres’ Oscar selfie as the most retweeted tweet in history. Prior to Wendy’s, he was digital marketing manager at Freedom Group. He also held positions at Gyro, Advantech Automation and the Nederlander Corporation.

Mr. Rhoten is charged with enhancing Papa John’s advertising, digital marketing and social media efforts with a focus on quality. Also on his agenda is exploring new ways to amplify Papa John’s international growth. He will report to president and COO Steve Ritchie.

“Brandon was a key contributor in Wendy’s resurgence within the quick service restaurant hamburger category, advancing its brand positioning, creative, media, digital marketing, and now renowned social media presence,” said Mr. Ritchie. “He is a disruptor in the quick service restaurant industry, and we are excited for him to further enhance Papa John’s brand relevancy and quality positioning across our marketing channels globally.”

Today’s CMO

Current business demands have resulted in increased contributions from chief marketing officers, according to the latest research report from market research firm Forrester and Heidrick & Struggles. The survey found that CMOs are building strong relationships with the head of product as well as research & development to prepare their organizations for digital disruption.

“We see CMOs moving beyond functional expertise to assume responsibility for driving overall growth within their organizations,” said Sheryl Pattek, VP, CMO executive partner at Forrester. “They are evolving into key strategic partners on the executive team, and know that collaboration with the rest of the C-suite will be instrumental to their success.”


Recruiter Insights

Over the past several months, several recruiters have weighed in on the growing importance of today’s marketing officers, the challenges of recruiting them and where to find the best talent for this function:

Recruiting CMOs is always a challenge,” said Peter Polachi, managing partner of technology-focused search firm Polachi Inc. “Over the last 20 years, I have come to realize that it is more challenging than recruiting CEOs for technology companies due to market constraints.”


The CMO has become a more powerful force than ever on executive teams and increasingly harder to come by,” said Keely Gjelsteen, former associate of Calibre One now working as an SMB account executive for BlueJeans Network. “The most commonly requested characteristic for CMOs is digital expertise in addition to messaging and positioning.”


CMOs must have experience across the entire marketing stack with emphasis on the “Big M” (branding and positioning), product marketing, analytics, lead generation and digital, with analytics and digital being extremely important to today’s CMO,” said Jim Bethmann, managing partner and co-leader of TMT & IT services and information security practices at Caldwell Partners.


Today’s CMO works with the CEO to accelerate the organization and drive transformation,” said Christine DeYoung, a partner at DHR International. “CMOs also collaborate with other members of the C-suite, especially with a company’s top HR executive to shape the company brand. As such, chief marketing executives are gaining rapidly in stature and influence in the C-suite.”

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Chase Barbe, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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