Friday, September 25, 2009

Personal Branding - The Companies Headhunters Blackball

Why no consumer packaged goods company has been able to market a new product more successful than the least successful new product ever created by product development expert Calle & Company and Martin Calle remains a mystery. Baked Lays Potato Chips, created by Calle & Company for Frito-Lay sold $319 million in it's first ten months. That's roughly double 2008's most successful new product conceived and developed some other way, Gatorade's $159 million G2. Can't compare salty snacks to beverages you say? Only if you want to close your eyes and believe "you" are the "knower of all things." And that's the problem with personal branding. You build alters to yourself.

Not to promote but Calle & Company's product developments have topped the charts at IRI, NPD and ACNielsen now for 57 consecutive years. And why? Because outward-looking forward-thinking executives reach out to them while straight-forward, linear-thinking problem-solvers do not. For example, while Calle & Company was working with highly talented cross functional teams at Frito-Lay to determine what consumers wanted next, others at Frito-Lay were busy pushing "supplier" concepts like Wow! Chips with Procter & Gamble's Olestra championed by Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi. And Wow! Chips with Olestra was barely able to fill the pipeline with $29 million worth of product.

So how do you NOT end up behind the 8 ball while making your company one that headhunters respect? And what's the difference between hitting a home run and striking out? That's a good question. Many acquaintances in the human resources industry tell me they attend conferences where the main topic of conversation is the fact that even though they hire the top talent, top talent fails to deliver growth. Visiting McKinsey & Company's website one also finds in McKinsey's assessment of the consumer packaged goods industry that, "despite solid balance sheets and healthy bottom lines executives still wonder where growth will come from. So apparently, McKinsey's consultants don't have the answers either. On the internet, especially at sites like LinkedIn, one can find a host of professional organizations dealing with marketing, marketing research, innovation, social media, social networking and branding. Yet in the market research groups, especially the "Next Generation Market Research" group one finds post after post and discussion after discussion addressing my grandfather's market research techniques. If this is indeed "The Next Generation" then why are they using my father's and grandfather's marketing research tools? There's nothing "next generation" about it.

So having covered those three aspects, consider the impact of working in these companies on your efforts to personally brand yourself. Afterall, this is, was, has been and will continue to be the era of "brand me."

On September 3, 2009 Business Week published The Companies Headhunters Avoid: Recruiters are in surprising agreement as to which companies they avoid when looking for executive talent. Companies such as The Coca-Cola Company figured prominently in the article and were I The Coca-Cola Company's Senior Vice President of Human Resources Cynthia P. McCaque I'd be concerned. The Coca-Cola Company has not launched a new product that ranked in IRI, NPD or ACNielsen's top ten annual pace setters for at least the last 25 years. The article details the inability of longtime Coca-Cola veterans to manage other companies effectively, including some of The Coca-Cola Company's prior luminaries.

According to the Business Week article, "The conclusion among headhunters is that the very attributes that make Coke a great company—an iconic brand and an unmatched global distribution system—also make it too easy for young managers to rise without having to develop the entrepreneurial skills necessary to compete in other arenas." "Granted, working at Coke can make you comfortable—the stock has yielded a 24.8% total return over the past five years, vs. a 2.4% return for the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index—but recruiters say it may not make you management material anywhere else."

But read the entire article at Business Week and remember two things. It's what you learn once you know it all that counts, and, stay humble, there's always someone better right behind you. Reach out!

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