2009 Marketing & CPG Conference: Breaking Through the Clutter

For those of you who didn't know, I am a Co-Vice President of Marketing/Social for the HBS Marketing & CPG Club, and this year, I got to spearhead the collateral creation and design process for the club's annual conference. Our theme: the ever relevant idea of "breaking through the clutter." The date: November 8, 2009. The result: success!


The day began with a keynote address by Russ Klein, the president of global marketing, strategy and innovation for Burger King. I have to admit, I wasn't initially thrilled at the prospect of hearing Russ speak. The only marketing campaign that came to mind when I thought of Burger King was the "burger King" with his cheesy grin and plastic face (not one of my favorite marketing tactics, I must admit). But Russ was surprisingly compelling and he outlined some BK initiatives that I actually thought were quite creative. For example, he told us about how BK changed around the Kid's Meal to make it more healthy by cutting apple slices into the shape of french fries and serving them in a french fry container. That's a pretty original way to make eating healthier fun for kids. He also highlighted the "Whopper Freakout" campaign, which was pretty funny (it involved BK declaring that the Whopper was discontinued in one town and taping people's insane reactions), although it definitely highlighted the less-than-classy clientele that tend to support this type of establishment. Russ also threw out a few "gems of wisdom" that he says BK staff live by:

  • Sometimes it's more important to be provocative than pleasant (nothing tugs like tension).
  • Speed matters: fail fast, succeed fast.
  • Turning your brand over to the consumer is taking control.
  • Formulas are for scientists: shedding your skin frequently can be rejuvenating

Interestingly enough, Russ stepped down from his position at Burger King today: http://adage.com/article?article_id=140426.

In the afternoon, the conference featured four panels, of which I attended Innovation in the Lifecycle of a Brand and Reaching Consumers Through New Channels (the other offerings were Power of International Marketing and Connecting Meaningfully with Different Consumer Segments). Breaking up the panels was a networking lunch, in which I got to sit with our second keynote speaker, Porter Gale, who is the vice president of marketing for Virgin America airlines.

Porter was a very interesting woman to sit down with -- she really knows how to sell the Virgin America brand. It was especially enlightening for me, as I'm currently a loyal JetBlue customer, and VA considers JB to be one of their biggest competitors. I promised Porter that I would give Virgin a try, since they're launching Ft Lauderdale Intl Airport next week, but as long as they continue charging for checked bags and snacks (JetBlue gives first checked bag free and unlimited free snacks and beverages), I'm not sure my loyalty will be switching.

Some highlights from Porter's talk:

  • Those who are brave may not live that long, but those who are timid don't live at all.
  • Connect, don't market.
  • Think like a marketer. Act like a CFO.
  • Look for avenues to get the word out that don't cost money. Virgin America benefitted highly from generating PR buzz, participating in reality shows and leveraging social networks. Their marketing budget is a measly $12mm in comparison to Southwest's $200mm, but that doesn't mean you can't get good coverage.

Overall, I feel like I learned a lot at the conference. Now it's on to planning for the spring HBS Entertainment & Media Club conference. I never stop! Stay tuned for another blog post this weekend as I'll be posting tons of photos from the EKTA show that I'm participating in!

5 Responses to "2009 Marketing & CPG Conference: Breaking Through the Clutter"

prashanth responded on November 15, 2009 at 11:01 AM #

Thank you for writing this. I really like this thought - think like a marketer and act like a CFO..so true in these times!

Caitlin responded on November 17, 2009 at 6:31 PM #

Were you able to find a full time position in marketing? It looks like that's your focus. Wondering how recruiting is going like?

Gabby responded on November 17, 2009 at 8:37 PM #

Hi Caitlin,

I actually have not even begun my job search since I am looking to work in entertainment marketing and they subscribe more to the "just in time" hiring philosophy. I'm just building a network right now and reaching out to various alumni to get a sense for what different marketing roles are like in the entertainment industry. I'll probably start looking more seriously at job postings in the late spring. Thanks for reading and for the comment!

Kim responded on December 4, 2009 at 12:36 PM #

I actually think you need to work on your job search earlier; postponing in the spring and thinking that employers are going to hire on the spot are recipes for disappointment; it may take you six months or more to find a position. start working on your search earlier.

Gabby responded on December 4, 2009 at 9:19 PM #

Hi Kim!

Thanks for your comment!

I have started the networking process -- building relationships, learning about companies and divisions within each organization -- but for me the actual application process won't start until the spring. It's mostly because I want to work in the entertainment industry -- the nature of the industry is that they simply don't know their hiring needs in advance of a position actually opening up. That's why the network becomes so important -- you have to hope that the people you've built relationships with think of you when they see postings or hearing of a role coming open in their group.

I'm also working extensively with the career coaches on campus here at HBS to build and continually refine my job search strategy. Thankfully, we've got a great support network here.

In the end, I'm crossing my fingers that things fall into place and that companies start hiring back in Q1 of 2010, but only time will tell.

Thanks for keeping up with Harvard Bound!

Gabby