How Del Monte’s Elana Gold handled being named CMO during the pandemic

Starting a new job always comes with some amount of stress. But when the position is as chief marketing officer — a role that continues to see radical transformation — and when it comes during the middle of a global pandemic, the challenges are magnified.

“It’s rare when you start as a global CMO and all of your bags are packed and you’re moving to Florida, and then all of a sudden you discover that you’re not going anywhere,” Elana Gold told Marketing Dive. Gold, who began work as the first CMO of Fresh Del Monte Produce on March 23, has been working remotely, like most marketing professionals.

Still, the pandemic has not stopped the marketing world as much as it has accelerated changes to it. Gold spoke with Marketing Dive about how the role is evolving, the challenges of marketing during the pandemic and the brand’s first campaign under her leadership.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

MARKETING DIVE: There have been a lot of changes in the CMO space in the past few years, but the pandemic and the movement for social justice have only accelerated some of these. What changes have you seen in the role of CMO recently?

ELANA GOLD: I think it’s a crazy time to be a CMO any time. But I’ve worked globally all of my life, in China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia and Mexico, so I’ve seen it all.

Fundamentally, as leaders, we are individuals who have to deeply understand the consumer and the constituents. The role of marketing in terms of championing the needs of the people we serve doesn’t change. So, this is not the time to cut costs on research. This is the time to be able to understand, if you want to be effective, if you want to break out with your products and messaging, you have to make sure you understand what is important.

People are nostalgic about some of the brands one might call old-fashioned, the Campbell, the Quaker Oats, the Kellogg, the Del Montes. But this is our opportunity to reinvent and innovate ourselves. If people want fresh-cut fruits and vegetables, we have to make sure we give them the safest packaging possible, and at the same time, make it more sustainable so we tell people we care about the earth. I think that’s what people want to hear.

The other thing is because most folks are still staying home, there’s a lot of TV watching and more social media consumption. I never do digital for the sake of digital. I do it, because it’s how you get information out to folks. But when we were asked not to post or over-post on Instagram, so that important messages could get through, you have to be conscious about these things, so I stopped social media efforts that were promoting fruits and vegetables.

You have to now look to see what is happening with kids going back to school and with parents still at home. Are they looking for recipes? Are they looking for convenience? We also do a lot in terms of also helping people understand how they preserve their produce longer [especially for people who are unemployed]. We do a lot in terms of just fundamentally helping folks instead of potentially what we might want to sell that was in our pipeline a year ago.

We’ve also decided to launch our e-commerce business in Dallas. I know a lot of people that are doing it, but we’re trying it out, and with the campaign from our agency, for every box we sell, we’ll donate fresh produce to some of the small restaurant owners who are in trouble now. These are natural things that companies are coming up with to demonstrate care, and I think these are also the kind of things we should all consider doing.

What was the impetus of the Can Do Done Daily campaign, a primarily digital effort that highlights the personal stories of Fresh Del Monte employees?

GOLD: What the company has done that was pretty amazing is arranged a really thorough induction program for me where it’s not about only meeting people in the headquarters. They gave me the opportunity to talk to warehouse and operations managers to merchandisers to drivers, and as I was interviewing these individuals, I would ask them about what they do and about their jobs. Each one had a pretty amazing story.

I spoke with the merchandiser about what he normally does. He said when he gets to the stores, it’s a complete mess and there’s no merchandise in front-of-house. And so he has to go and roll up his sleeves and help the retailers. He’s helping out retailers on the weekends because they’re so short staffed, going from store to store.

I have dozens of stories like that and thought this was just so amazing. I call this a company with a tremendous soul. Everything is done with such heart. You want your product to always be the best, you want to make sure the end consumer has the best variety possible even under these unprecedented conditions. But you don’t forget your customer, right?

We have to worry about our own facilities and keeping people safe. These essential workers go out of their way to help others to make sure their businesses are successful. And that’s why I thought, “Can Do, Done Daily.” These guys just have such a down to earth, caring, heartfelt approach that was so easy to do a campaign. I wanted to shout from the rooftops and hope that our retail partners appreciate what our employees do. But it was also to celebrate our people.

Is the target of the campaign just on those retail partners?

GOLD: We have made connections with B2B because this is where our customers and relationships are. On the other hand, we’ve also featured it extensively on our website, and used SEO to drive folks to our corporate website both from the consumer side and investor side. We did a splash on LinkedIn. So we try and celebrate it as much as we can.

When it comes to consumers, I think we have a bigger story to tell about how Fresh Del Monte is made up of people, product and planet. We have the largest sustainability efforts of any competitor out there, starting with Costa Rica, which is completely carbon-neutral. I really want to be able to tell the consumers that when you buy [our products] you will have the best, created by deep experts, delivered with care, and you can feel really good about eating the food because it actually does good for the planet. That’s the next story that I’ll be talking about [with marketing].

Did you have any concerns about launching a campaign that directly addresses the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic?

GOLD: My father always said, “Don’t let a tragedy go to waste.” Beyond the campaign, I have been just amazed at how innovative this company has been, in terms of reacting, and I think it is the innovators that are going to stand out and make it longer term.

We just launched an amazing plant which is just above and beyond the gold standard of safety. We were always safe, but we said, ‘what is the pandemic teaching us?’ Why should we lower standards in the future? We need to make sure that we deliver the absolute highest safety because I don’t think this is going away.

Whether it’s messaging or innovation, we’re actually taking advantage of being better in this environment and celebrating your people and the creative ideas they have. So I don’t know if I’ve had a hard time necessarily crafting messages [during the pandemic].

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