The Person Behind the Brand
Laston Charriez is the Head of Marketing for PilgrimÛªs, a retail, wholesale, and consumer products company, working with over 4,000 family farms throughout the U.S., Western Europe, and Mexico to bring a variety of food products to market. His career spans a diverse set of industries and brands across the U.S. and Latin America, including such luminaries as Procter & Gamble, Sara Lee, Western Union, and Denver Mattress.
Laston grew up in Puerto Rico of French descent, is a Purdue graduate, and an avid mountain biker. He currently lives in Denver, Colorado, with his wife and two children.
CMO ClubÛÓWhat was your first marketing experience?
Laston CharriezÛÓÛÏI worked for Proctor and Gamble straight out of college. ItÛªs funny, my parents ran a drug store in Puerto Rico, and IÛªd worked in and been around pharmacy for a long while before IÛªd left for Purdue. P&G had just purchased Richardson-Vicks, and they named me the first Brand Assistant. Vicks had a one-hundred-year-old plant in the mountains of Cayey, Puerto Rico, that sold Vicks Vapor Rub. So they sent me into the mountains, into this old plant, and there were no marketing people there. Nothing. They literally had six boxes of files in a small closet. That was the marketing department. That was my first day.”
CMO ClubÛÓWow, what a first day! What lessons did you learn from that experience?
Laston CharriezÛÓÛÏThat you never take things at first blush. I thought I had this huge three-hundred and fifty million-dollar business where I would be advertising for Chloraseptic, for Vicks Formula 44, for Vicks Inhalers. I soon found out that we were actually doing half of that. Half of what was being produced was being shipped back to the U.S. because we were producing and selling it much cheaper than the U.S. It never even hit the Walgreens or the CVS. It went straight to the shipping containers, straight to Miami. We didnÛªt realize until much later what was happening. They called it ÛÏDiversion.Û People were making a lot of money, not necessarily the company. We were actually undercutting ourselves. It took a long while to straighten out. Amazing.”
CMO ClubÛÓAs your cross-industry career path indicates, you seem to pride yourself on the ability to morph and change on-the-fly. Is there any advice you can offer to other CMOÛªs about that ability to change?
Laston CharriezÛÓÛÏFirst is having style flexibility. You need to strive to learn something new every day. Part of that is understanding the same style over and over is not going to be conducive to learning in different industries. IÛªve had to stop what I was doing so I could understand the crucial learning points and, second, you need to do it quickly. In a hundred days you have to know where the money is made, how itÛªs made, and where the short and long-term levers are to be able to start the snowball effect. You have to learn, but you still have to produce, get to the nitty-gritty if you will. Otherwise, they donÛªt need you.”
CMO ClubÛÓWhat do you look for in new marketing hires?
Laston CharriezÛÓÛÏCuriosity. Everyone I hire has to be Curious George. They have to be willing to learn and willing to make mistakes. Curious George breaks everything, but he learns from those mistakes. I want to be the man with the yellow hat.”
CMO ClubÛÓMistakes. Get it. In that vein, if it were possible to go back in time and give your 22-year-old-self advice, what would you say?
Laston CharriezÛÓÛÏBe more self-aware of your energy. Let me explain. I get very passionate about things, very excited. Sometimes that can be overwhelming for people. ItÛªs great to be around passionate people, but it can be too much sometimes.Û
CMO ClubÛÓOutside of your work, what are you most passionate about?
Laston CharriezÛÓÛÏOf course, my family, but outside of my family, IÛªm a big mountain biker. I really, REALLY love mountain biking. I go somewhere beautiful every weekend. In Colorado, everywhere you look itÛªs amazing and every single weekend is an adventure. I was biking recently in Salida, Colorado. ItÛªs a stunning and humbling place, just beautiful.”
CMO ClubÛÓYou recently said that CMOÛªs should do something every day that scares them. What have you done that scared you?
Laston CharriezÛÓÛÏThe company had a contest, and the contest was for a spot in the Super Bowl. P&G would pay for a brand to have the spot during the game. I had Charmin. I told my agency and my marketers that I wanted to win. They thought I was crazy, that it was toilet paper going against brands like Old Spice and Pepto-Bismol. Well, I produced the commercial, and we won a one-time spot. Had I not won, I would have had to trash the commercial without airing, which cost us $800,000.00 to produce. It was a big risk. I was super scared the day it aired as well. It was the first P&G commercial ever to air during the Super Bowl. There was a chance we would get brutalized but we didnÛªt, and it actually helped the brand.”
CMO ClubÛÓIs there something you can share with us that most people donÛªt know about you?
Laston CharriezÛÓÛÏI was awarded the Best High School Actor in all of Puerto Rico in my senior year.Û
CMO ClubÛÓCan a CMO make the world a better place?
Laston CharriezÛÓÛÏYes. I strongly believe you do that by passing it on, passing that passion to the next, younger generation of how you do your craft. Everywhere IÛªve been, whether in Puerto Rico or Mexico, Chicago, Cincinnati, here in Denver, I get involved with the universities and I mentor the future marketers.åÊItÛªs a crucial thing, to pass the craft.Û
CMO ClubÛÓAny good, authentic Puerto Rican food in Denver?
Laston CharriezÛÓÛÏNO.Û (laughter)