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In this episode, Samuel Monnie and Chris Lawson are joined by Yin Rani CEO of MilkPep: a champion of Change, Collaboration, Ideas, People, Data. We discuss Agency vs Client side (yes there is a Star Wars Dark side reference), the importance of being a people-first leader, how diverse is your network? Catching the zeitgeist in marketing communication and strategy vs execution.

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Episode 58
Yin Rani Interview. A lifetime student of Marketing

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  • Agency vs Client (yes there is a Star Wars Dark side comparison) 

  • Clients get the creative they deserve and the integration that they demand

  • MARKETING vs marketing 

  • Planning vs Luck in your career

  • Shout outs to empathetic leaders: Mike Senackerib (Deweys), Elizabeth Morrisson (Levis), David Kenny (Nielsen), Raja Rajamannar (Mastercard)

  • Strategy vs Execution

Transcripts:

CHRIS:

Yin Rani - Interview A lifetime student of marketing

 

SAM:

Welcome to another  episode of Across the Pond - Marketing Transformed.  You've got me, Samuel Monnie here. And my awesome co-host Chris Lawson. Say hi, Chris. 

 

CHRIS:

Hey Sam, how are you doing? 

 

SAM:

I'm doing awesome. I'm doing great. I think I say awesome at least 5 times an episode. 

 

CHRIS:

You do, but you don't normally say that about me. So thank you for that.

 

SAM:

You've been obviously listening very carefully. Anyway,  we've got a great guest today. A wonderful woman called Yin Rani, she's chief executive officer of MilkPEP and she's really driving both strategy and breakthrough consumer communications, to help encourage milk consumption across a twenty-five billion dollar industry, on behalf of America's milk companies. She's got 25 years of integrated marketing experience across CPG companies. Prior to joining MilkPEP Yin was chief customer experience officer at Campbell soup and did a lot of work in modernizing marketing and content and media, marTech, digital, as well as improving the business trajectory. Shameless plug, I had the awesome fortune of working for Yin when we were at Campbell. So I miss those days and really loved working for her. Before joining Campbell's, she was president of North America universal McCann, and finally her LinkedIn bio I love, which just says, "change, collaboration, ideas, people and data". Welcome, Yin.


 

Trivial Pursuit Dream Team

YIN:

Thank you so much, Sam. And thank you so much, Chris, for having me. It's a pleasure to be here today. 

 

SAM:

Well, it's great having you. Let's  just get into it and you've had these senior leadership roles on both the agency side and client side, which is so fascinating. Deep branding, business, creative experiences. So what inspired you to enter the agency side of things in the first place? 

 

YIN:

You know, I wish I had a better plan for my life because people always ask me that question. And it was a little bit serendipitous. I wanted a job that had some global reach because  I grew up in Asia, so I wanted a job where I could work here in America and eventually return home, but that didn't work out. Basically I  networked my way into the job. It was a college roommate's father who helped me find a way into agency life. I think I was a liberal arts major, it just made a ton of sense because I always laugh about liberal arts major that don't teach you anything. But they do teach you to have the confidence that you can learn almost anything, that's actually super useful in the agency world. You suddenly wake up one day and you're an expert on toilet paper or fabric softener or haircare. It is about ideas and analysis and collaboration. And so I stumbled my way into it, but obviously it was a good fit for my dilettante nature because I stayed in it for 18 years, I guess. 


 

SAM:

Wow. So I'm listening to you there and you stumble into it and I love this liberal arts, but isn't that a strength, right? Because you are on the agency side learning lots of different categories. You mentioned toilet paper and I think other food, what sorts of areas have you had to become an expert or proficient at?

 

YIN:

Oh my goodness. The list is varied and random. I'm always gathering things like trivial pursuit, dream teams from my agency friends, because agency people have the most obscure bodies of knowledge. I mean Sam I've worked across lots of businesses for the average agency person, or you've been when you were as long as I was. I mean, I know a lot about hair care. I know a lot about probiotic, fiber supplements. 

 

CHRIS:

It doesn't often come up in trivial pursuits though does it? 

 

YIN:

There will be a special marketing and advertising version of trivial pursuit that I will create.

 

SAM:

Ooh, that's a brilliant idea. 

 

YIN:

I could go on. I know a lot about board games actually, which is a huge privilege to work on things like candy land, operation. Oh, all kinds of things. It makes it really helpful at a cocktail party. Other than that, it's not exactly clear what all that body of knowledge is for.


 

Join the Dark Side

SAM:

You're a  Renaissance lady, you know, a little bit about a lot of things.  So you did that for, you said about 18 years, and then went to the other side - I won't use the star wars analogy for that, you know, the dark side vs the light side. What led to that change to the more the client side? 

 

YIN:

I know I still call it the dark side, which I probably shouldn't because I think I'm officially a client now, but I still feel like a client on training wheels most days. I didn't actually start out on that journey or plan to go client side. I had a very clear map of the kind of work I wanted to do and the kinds of things I wanted to impact. Frankly, one of the big driving forces was integration. As you know, Sam, I'm obsessed with integration on the marketing front and it's such a fragmented ecosystem. It's increasingly hard, I think, to bring all those tools together. But then again, there's never been a better time to be in marketing because there's all of these great tools. One of the reasons I went from creative agency to media agency is I believe that media agencies could be a better spine potentially because so many dollars flow through that system. So when I was investigating what to do next and I talked to people, people basically said back to me, 

 

"Just as clients get the creative that they deserve, 

they get the integration that they demand".  





 

So I heard time and time again, if you're serious about integration, the best seat to drive that from right or wrong is on the client side. Then again, I'm blessed with a great network and was able to be introduced to our former boss, Mike Senackerib, God bless him for taking a risk on an agency refugee and bringing me to the dark side. It was the fun-est version of the dark side ever as you know, because my theme song at Campbell soup was, 'everything is awesome' from the Lego movie. He was an amazing boss,  I just talked to him recently actually. 

 

SAM:

What did you have to learn or unlearn looking back and shifting to the client side? 

 

YIN:

Oh dear Sam. I mean, it was so humbling, I have to say. I mean really the biggest thing I learned was. That marketing, big ‘M” marketing and little ‘m’ marketing communications is such a small part of a company's day-to-day operations. Maybe, particularly in a manufacturing environment like CPG, when you are an agency person, even a very senior one, you know, you sort of have this illusion that CMOs are like the masters of the universe. They just wanted to do things they could and all they needed was budget and courage. And then you show up internally, you're like, "oh God really? Oh, wow. This is hard". You're like, "oh look, physical objects coming out of factories. Oh, wow".  Then in food particularly, you know, the running joke on Pace is every spring will run out of peppers. Agency side - It's all dollars and money. If you just throw money at it and throw people at it, you can solve a lot of problems, but you literally can't manufacture red peppers out of the sky. Very very humbling. 

 

Anyway, I learned a lot about how marketing operates within a larger enterprise ecosystem and why, for marketing to earn a seat at the table, it has to respect the enterprise, speak the language of finance, speak the language of the supply chain when necessary. So that was a very big learning. And then the other thing I learned, which is how useful, in fact, some agency side skills are within a corporate environment because frankly, a lot in corporate environments, it's about stakeholder management and influence and leading should change when you don't have direct authority. Those are plenty of the dark arts that I gathered on the agency side. And that has stood me well, as I've come onto the client side.


 

Got Milk

CHRIS:

I don't often get this chance to ask this question much, but how did you then get into milk? 

 

YIN:

Again, I never have a plan. I know I'm a bad role model for all the people living out there. All the young people, you should have a plan, do not do what I do. I was actually going to be a consultant. I had been consulting for almost a year and enjoying it, and the job came open. Someone posted this job description on this very long email database list he has, the recruiter guy called David Wiser. I looked at it and I was like, that's interesting. Then literally within a few days, five of my friends sent the job description back to me. I said, have you looked at this? It sounds like you. I was like, no, I haven't actually looked at this.  So then I called David and I went through the interview process and decided to take the gig. It's a very interesting job because it's all pure MARCOMMS. I get to be attached to a very large, important industry, but to focus on the marcomm piece, which is really my passion and my expertise. 

 

CHRIS:

The size and the scale of this, compared to what happens in the UK, just looks absolutely gigantic. So milk consumption is a  25 billion pound industry. Is that correct? 

 

YIN:

TWENTY FIVE BILLION DOLLARS! But dairy is much bigger. I think dairy is like 40 ($BN) or 50 and growing because actually outside milk, cheese consumption has grown. Yogurt has grown, especially recently with the Greek yoghurt boost, ice cream growing, particularly during COVID. So it's a huge business in America, I think it's the second or third largest beverage category in grocery stores after, after water and I guess CSD (carbonated soft drinks).

 

CHRIS:

Yeah. That's absolutely staggering. So what has surprised you so far? How have you found it in comparison? 

 

YIN:

You know, it's a great gig for me, as I was saying to Sam the other day, it feels like I've been really training for this job, my whole career and not realizing it. What has been surprising so far is, a) how big the industry is and how much good there is. I think, as a classic sort of Northeastern, 1% liberal elite member, you hear a lot of the chatter and the negative chatter. You know, that milk is dead and the plant based everything is taking over and the reality is quite different. I mean, we sell more regular dairy milk in a day than oat milk sells in a year. You might not think that on the reputational side. So it's been wonderful to see just how robust the industry actually is and the product itself. I mean, it's really nice to work on a product that has so much nutrition and wellness benefits. 

 

In CPG, you spend all the time wandering around and trying to find meaningful claims of what the product actually can do and that you can legally say, and then with milk you're swimming in its functional claims. Those have been all great things. And I think the last thing that's been surprising is how open for change the  industry is. So when they interviewed and I was very relentless on this topic,  I was like, " do you really want me, like, I know you want an outsider, but I am a real outsider. Right. Really, really outside the box". The board has been very supportive and the industry has been very welcoming, very patient with me. I think, as an industry that needs change part one, I think weirdly enough, COVID probably helped me on that front because there was so much disruption in so many aspects that probably the appetite for change was enhanced, not diminished. Like a lot of CPG and a lot of CPG food, we benefited on the retail side in terms of consumption and therefore purchase. We are more affected in the school system.  In food service, the coffee shops have done a little better than some other sectors. 

 

 It was a better year for milk sales than it has been, so I think that maybe gave a little win in the sales, but probably the most notable piece of change that I brought about was reintroducing Got milk, which in the USA is a very celebrated campaign with a lot of history. It had been retired for all kinds of very, very good reasons six years ago. I had been toying with the idea of maybe bringing it back in the future and doing the thing one does; research it, concept test it, I'd  qualitative it, lots of things. Then last year we were an Olympic sponsor, so our Olympic program wasn't able to be deployed obviously, until this year. And so we were frankly, scrambling a little bit of what to do in that place. The agency had a very strong platform idea and they had written a lot of lines for it, but they came back up, congratulated them and said, "we actually think you could put Got milk on this". So I wrestle with it for a weekend. I called everybody I knew. I said, am I doing this for the right reasons? What's the upside, what's the downside? And then by Monday we decided to do it. I told the board a few days later, and then we just went and did it. It's a huge privilege to be able to bring back something that iconic. You know, over a weekend. Right? I mean, when does that happen? 



 

SAM:

Can you tell us a little bit more about that Got milk campaign?   For our overseas global audience, I'm not sure how much they know about it. Tell us the history of why this is a meaningful campaign. 


 

YIN:

Got milk ran for 20 plus years and continues to run in California un-interrupted because it's actually the brainchild of the California milk Processing Board. I must give a wonderful shout out and the talent to who invented the line originally. They have a long history in California of doing great work against the (ad campaign tag) line. For the national program, the thing we're best known for is milk mustache campaign, it was a very print heavy campaign, every celebrity you can think of probably from the nineties and early arts was in it, and it was a very recognizable, memorable campaign.  So we saw a huge rise in social media chatter about milk during the pandemic, not because of volume, but also in positive sentiment that there was almost a 40% increase in positive sentiment. So we just, basically, we turned the camera back on America and we use lots of user generated content and cut them into two. For me, there was something just sort of wonderfully subversive about moving from the celebrity model of the past, which the milk mustache did a wonderful job of leveraging, to what the celebrity means today. Because everybody's a celebrity, everyone's a creator, everyone has a story to tell, a video to share. In our first sponsored TikTok outing, we achieved, I think, something over 4 billion views.  3 billion of which were in the first few weeks. TikTok throws up these huge numbers, which you frankly, almost can't believe to be honest, but we were very deliberate that it wouldn't just be bringing back I love the deprivation campaign, or the milk moustache  campaign just as is, but it would be a new interpretation of it. 

 

SAM:

So I can use this word now, you sort of caught the Zeitgeist

 

YIN:

You know, the Zeitgeist last year was so chaotic with  COVID and black lives matter, etc. But, particularly we wanted to attract a youth audience. They're the first social media generation, social media has never been non-existent  for many young people. So we got enormous engagement, great numbers. The business, the category is up 2% at retail after being down for many years, no credit to me, a lot of that is COVID behavior, but the response to the campaign has been tremendous.


 

A Student of Marketing 

CHRIS:

See, what I love about that is it's a combination of everything that marketing is about. Isn't it, it's about anticipation of trends. There’s  some evidence-based in there it's about using the most appropriate channels and it's a great creative idea  and understanding that actually sometimes the best ideas are ideas that already happen and then revamping them for a modern world. So thinking back to your LinkedIn profile, that change, collaboration, ideas, people, data. So, if that's a pie chart, how does your job break down? Where would you put those percentages? 







 

YIN:

That's a good question. I mean, it probably depends on the day and you know, it can go from 80% something to 2% something else. One of the wonderful things about marketing and advertising particularly is that every day is so different. If I had to say on a more macro level versus a day, you know? I am relentlessly people oriented. I think as Sam knows, and I describe myself as talent obsessed, and maybe that's a little bit of my agency upbringing.  I try to spend a lot of time on the people that work for me, the people in my agency group, and the people in my largest stakeholder group, the board, the industry, my sister association. So when in doubt, I always kind of come back to the people. I think that 




 

I've seen time and time in my own career, that  people are the ultimate differentiator . They are the ultimate competitive advantage.  I mean, so many times, especially if you've been involved in turnaround, nothing has changed except the people. So if I had to pick all those things and had to bet on something, I would bet on the people.

 

CHRIS:

So who are the transformation leaders, or thought leaders that you look up to and think, actually   do you know what, they're talking a lot of sense at the moment. 

 

YIN:

You know, I'm lucky to have such a great network of wonderful, thoughtful people. Some of whom are well known and some of them less well known.I've worked with  an executive coach, his name is Rob Elliot. If anybody wants to hire him, you should. Except you probably can't get a slot because he's super busy. I've got a chance to hear from Raja, from MasterCard a couple of nights ago at an Asian American CMO event. He's always been a great inspiration, he's so thoughtful. He's generous. He's an Asian descent and  he just published a new book. So he's someone that I think a lot about, because MasterCard is also a very pure branding exercise, much as milk is.  I mean, I'm a huge student of marketing. My husband teases me that marketing is my hobby as well as my profession. So I have books upon books, blogs upon blogs. Rishad Tobaccowala, another great thinker who I've known very early in my career. You know, his last book is also very inspiring. I don't know. I could publish you  a whole blog on people that I read and follow  to be honest, Chris.

 

CHRIS:

There's so much learning out there, I think sometimes we lose track of what other options there are for us, as you look through your own lens.

 

YIN:

It is hard. I think the political sphere, at least in this country,  there definitely is a bit of an echo chamber effect in politics. And so from a marketing standpoint, 

 

“I always try to get out of my own marketing echo chamber, and I will try to follow or read people that either I don't agree with, or I don't know.  I think it's healthy to try to introduce diversity into your internal fabric, just as a matter of discipline.”

 

SAM:

I'm US-based. So for the listeners, there's a Multitude of news channels, but I do flip between the Fox news and CNN and MSNBC, but also Deutsche Welle, which is the German and RAI Uno in Italy. Of course the beloved prestigious BBC. It's interesting when you do get those different inputs, but from your side,  what makes you check different sources?

 

YIN:

Partially, I really do believe in debate. If that makes sense. I love nothing more than having divergent viewpoints to sift through, to sharpen my own thinking.  I think it's also because,  as I mentioned, I grew up in Asia and I grew up in Singapore specifically, which is a very multicultural, a very open economy and my husband is from India. So a lot of our lives are very connected to a region that is quite different from the one we operate in. So I read, for example, every edition of the campaign magazine, I read the UK edition, the US edition and the Asian edition. And it's just fascinating to see how different topics are conveyed.  To pick on an old topic, you know, we kept saying in the U S it's the year of mobile, it's the year of mobile, it's the year of mobile, until it was the decade of mobile. But if you follow Asia, they have adopted mobile technologies, they just leapfrog basically over much desktop via either the smartphone side of things or in India flip phones, and I think it's good to be humble and to be a student wherever you can get a good idea.

 

SAM:

I love that student of good ideas and my heritage is British, but Ghanaian heritage.  For me when I was last out there, the thing which I saw vividly was very few people had landlines because they weren't reliable, they didn't work, but everyone had at least one cell phone.  It was just the perception of what you might perceive in the media versus the reality of people's behavior. So that's why all these payment systems and all sorts of systems are so much further ahead  perhaps in other countries that people are surprised that they're so sophisticated, but actually they've jumped to technology and now have become proficient. 

 

I did want to capture the piece about people and I can personally attest to that. I know you said you go back to the people and you said this quote that I don't know if you realized, but  you said "when in doubt  always back to the people ''. And I just love that quote and I can attest to how important that was to you in terms of the culture, diversity, self-development and training. It's been really important to you, but we did a bit of prep before this show.  You told me a story about your connection to chief diversity officers. I don't know if you could share with the audience?  That was just a fascinating insight that you saw when you started looking at your LinkedIn network. 

 

YIN:

As you know, I've been involved with DEI conversation for a long time in various  aspects, and I've recently become involved with a friend who's starting something to help support youth diversity officers. But when I was doing a bit of investigation and on LinkedIn to help her, I realized that I have like 40 plus first party contacts with chief people who carry chief diversity officer titles.  If you go one more circle out, it goes into the tens of thousands.  It's interesting cause  I've always valued that, I've always valued talent. I've always valued diverse talent. I think there's always more to be done. So, in every company that I've worked at, I've always gone to find the chief diversity officer and partner with them. And you remember Elizabeth Morrison from Campbell's? The first time I tracked her down and when I had just started, she said, nobody ever does that. She said, I want you to come and hunt for new executives. No one's ever called me first. So I said, well, I am here, Elizabeth, and I'm here to help.  

 

I think it's just been rather organic and it's a tough gig as you know, sometimes there's a business leader who has some more operational leeway, which I think is important for executives like me to lean in and help DEI officers. I think the big sin is, it's not an HR function. If you think of DEIs, only HR, only compliance, you've lost  before you've even begun. It is such a systems problem, as you know. It's hard to give a simple silver bullet answer. What I have seen is companies and industries make the most progress when someone at the top is truly deeply committed to it because they can change enough parts of the system to make change.

In my experience, if you change only one thing in a system, it helps, but when a leader is committed and leaning in and really designing a company and a culture, both from the qualitative side to the things you measure and reward, that's when you see real progress. I admire David Kenney, for example, at Nielsen, for taking on the chief diversity officer title. Michael Roth at  IPG, where I was privileged to work. There's a real compensation aspect to it, probably not as deep as some people want, but more than I've seen at other holding companies.  Knowing Michael Roth pretty well, maybe because he grew up in New York, it's very authentic for him. I mean, he's like I get it, just making sure everyone is on a level playing field and has access is super important. So if it's not the lead  at the top, that is committed to making the system work, it's not one person's job, it's not three people's job. The system must enable it. 

 

CHRIS:

Something you said earlier on which really struck me, was about considering milk alternatives and how much is  drunk across the year vs dairy. How do you make room for both? So how does your current role work with the rise of plant-based alternatives?

 

YIN:

It's a great question. The reality in the US is almost 40% of households drink both. I mean, they  almost all tend to drink more dairy than plant with some exceptions. So, we believe in a big tent. We want to make sure that the virtues and benefits of dairy milk are understood and  accurate, I think would be the big thing.  I am trained by my early Procter & Gamble experiences that the consumer is boss.  If consumers have chosen that and they keep that in their portfolio,  I respect that and my job is not necessarily to bash other people, but to make sure that the facts of what my category are well understood. Because I think there is a lot of misconception and I feel like the plant based group has began to win the perceptual or reputational battle. One of the things we're very focused at MilkPEP is , as we call it, reclaiming a narrative. On the positive side, not necessarily to take down anybody else, because as I said, when 40% of people are drinking, both, that is a very valid choice. But we need to tell our story more loudly and more proudly.


 

Quick Fire Round

CHRIS:

So what we're going to do now, we're going to move on to a quick fire round, just to get your gut reaction,  in terms of some of the things that are on your mind at the moment. 

 

So first question - what's top of your reading list at the moment?

 

YIN:

Like I mentioned, I just got Raja’s book sent to me, 'Quantum Marketing'.

 

SAM:

What's your biggest marketing regret?

 

CHRIS:

Oh, it's hard. I've been more lucky than not. I guess, at Campbell's as you know, Sam, I think we are on the verge of something really interesting and just starting to build it. So I'm probably sad that we didn't get to see that journey with Denise (Morrison) and Mike (Senackerib) towards the future of food all the way through.

 

CHRIS:

What's the most important element of a marketing and comms strategy to get right?

 

YIN:

My natural inclination is to say the strategy, but in my long career, I'm now going to say the execution. Isn't that terrible?

 

SAM:

Let's say strategy is executed and executing a strategy, that way you can sleep well at night. 

 

YIN:

Well, thank you, that makes me feel better . I always describe my personal brand as strategy in action. So I've also tried to straddle that. 

 

“No one sees the PowerPoint. No one sees a brief. All they see is execution and be at the product or the app, or the ad, or the TikTok things. So execution, execution, execution. Great execution comes from a great strategy. “

 

SAM:

What is the biggest change you've seen in marketing, in terms of marketing transformation over the last few years? 

 

YIN:

You know, it's interesting. I would say in the last couple of years  I feel like there's been a bit of a pendulum swing back away from data only, digital only, analytics only, to more fundamental things like purpose and brand building and consumer insights. I feel like they’re beginning to try to claw their way back into the conversation, at least as demonstrated by perhaps ANA’s programming choices.  I think they're both super important, but you know how the pendulum swings. So I'm personally excited to see a marketing ecosystem that values all parts of the equation equally, and that each of them serves their role because neither data nor purpose will ever give you the answer entirely. To ignore one or the other, is not a representation of how marketing works.

 

CHRIS:

The other reality as well, when you look at it obviously throughout your career, you've covered so much and you do need to take a rounded approach and understand that one element leads onto the second element. 


 

Will you join the Marketing Dork Club?

CHRIS:

Yin it's been great having you here today. Really lovely to meet you, it's the first time I've met you. So thank you very much for spending  time with us. 

 

YIN:

My pleasure, it was fun.  Marketing is my hobby, so I can always talk about it. I always called myself a marketing dork and Sam and I are both card carrying members of that club. 

 

SAM:

Yes,  I'm a fellow marketing dork and hopefully Chris, you want to join our special club. We'll see. But anyway, on that bombshell, I shall leave it there and say, thanks again, everyone.  Until next time, have a great week across the pond.