Hungry for change

Canadian marketer Dan Howe expanded his skill set – and Yum! Brands’ international reach – by taking an expat assignment as CMO for Europe.

“It was like a scene out of The Godfather, when all the competing mafia bosses met,” says Dan Howe, describing a November 2007 meeting of European owners and marketing leaders from Yum! Brands. About 25 of them, from 15 different countries, had gathered around a table in London to discuss the possibility of forming a European marketing co-op – an idea introduced by Howe, the Canadian who acted as Yum!’s chief marketing officer in Europe from April 2007 through October 2009.
Yum! Brands – encompassing KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell – is the world’s largest system-restaurant company, with more than 36,000 locations in more than 110 countries and territories. As CMO for Europe, Howe was responsible for approximately $1.5 billion US in sales, overseeing 1,200 franchised restaurants across 21 countries.
When he took the role, he inherited a mixed bag. “The business was mixed between mature markets like Germany and Spain, and high-growth markets like Poland, Russia and [former Soviet republics],” he says. “One of the main growth strategies was to find opportunities to drive European-wide strategies.”
In that regard, a marketing co-op – which sees a group of franchisees pay into a fund to develop marketing materials they can all use – made sense. But while this tactic is frequently used within a single country, cross-border co-ops are far less common. Still, Howe was encouraged by the success of Yum!’s marketing co-op in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as his previous experience running a marketing co-op for Pizza Hut in Canada.
As Howe’s Godfather remark suggests, conversations during planning were heated at times, but ultimately fruitful. “Over a series of meetings, we aligned around a common brand positioning, strategies and tactics, and six months later we had an agreement to build a formal co-op,” he says.
The next challenge was to actually launch it. “A co-op is like a marriage and takes constant work to build trust and to improve the value for its members,” says Howe. “[It] had its fair share of highs and lows but overall 2008, the first year of operation of the co-op, was a year of record sales growth and profit for Europe.”
A look at Howe’s resumé reveals that he’s no stranger to growth, and his knack for high-impact marketing strategy is presumably what got him tapped for the role in Europe.
Howe joined Yum! in 2005, after five years in the marketing department of Campbell’s Soup Company. As director of marketing for Pizza Hut, he racked up accomplishments quickly. Howe introduced the aforementioned marketing co-op, re-engineered the brand’s direct marketing program to deliver a 20% improvement on ROI and devised the strategic marketing plan that would take Quebec from being Pizza Hut’s weakest performing market (-6%) to its strongest (+7%). His efforts saw the company’s 2006 profit target exceeded by $1.9 million, with Howe recognized as Yum! employee of the year.
At the end of 2006, Howe was approached about the job in Europe. “I remember calling my wife to tell her about the opportunity and doing a little celebration dance over the phone,” he says. After a series of interviews and visits, Howe moved to Geneva, Switzerland in April 2007 with his wife and two daughters, adding a third daughter while they were there.
But while Geneva was his home base, Howe’s work regularly took him across the continent. “Half my time was working with individual countries, working to elevate their marketing through clear strategic thinking and programs that were grounded in consumer insights,” Howe says.
Since he didn’t necessary know the local language or customs, a lot of homework was required.
“It was similar to marketing a product [for which] you do not fit into the target,” he says. “I did not understand local insights and thus my role was to make sure the local team had a strong process to uncover and define consumer insight.”
Howe spent the other half of his time looking at the bigger picture, using Europe-wide strategies to create brand continuity across the countries.
“Clearly these two parts of the job could come into conflict,” he notes, “and that was the happy balance that Yum! creates – finding strategies that work globally but giving the individual countries that power to decide what is right for their market.” 
Howe went into the job expecting to notice big differences between marketing in Canada and abroad, but he found that the work itself was remarkably similar. The bigger challenge was learning the cultural norms.
“I would fly to a different country each week, and the business strategy was the easy part, while the hard part was learning to say ‘Hello’ in the local language, knowing how many kisses were a normal greeting (two in Paris, three in Geneva, and remember not to kiss the North American visitors), plus knowing the approach to communication in meetings,” he says.
Luckily, growing up in Canada’s multicultural society had prepared him for the challenge. His Canadian tact and diplomacy no doubt came in handy, too – especially when bringing together European franchisees.
As many marketers who’ve worked with franchisees can attest, the fact that they’re independent owners with unique visions for their restaurants, rather than employees, means you don’t always have the same degree of control over in-store execution. It’s important to keep owners happy to ensure they’ll participate in new programs and proudly display POS materials.
Aside from the marketing co-op, one of Howe’s biggest accomplishments was launching two Taco Bells in Europe. Although Pizza Hut and KFC have been present in Europe for many years, Taco Bell had never really made it. A few locations existed in London, U.K., in the mid-’80s and early-’90s, but all closed by the mid-1990s. Howe says that the December 2008 launch of a Taco Bell in Madrid, Spain was the first step in a new global expansion strategy for the brand. 
Another area of focus during Howe’s tenure was Russia. In 2005, Yum! had formed a joint venture with local partner Rostik Group, operating QSRs under the banner of Rostik’s-KFC. When Howe took the helm, part of his purview was building up that business so that Yum! could ultimately buy out the partner. The plan worked: the buyout was publicly announced this summer.
Though Howe is no longer overseeing these restaurants, he’s left a suitable successor in Yum! Russia’s new head of marketing, Piotr Rozanski. “I hired and coached Piotr over the past three years and it was great to see him develop and be recognized with this appointment,” he says. Heading up a marketing team spread across a vast geography helped Howe brush up on his leadership skills, as he learned to adapt his management style to the person, culture and situation at hand.
Now that he’s back home, as CMO for Canada, he has a new to-do list. Selling fast food to increasingly health-conscious consumers isn’t easy, and some of Yum!’s brands have seen better days.
“The challenge in Canada is a classic turnaround situation for KFC and Taco Bell, who are not performing up to our standards,” Howe says, though he notes that Pizza Hut is having a strong year under marketing director David Ross.
“It is a three-pronged challenge: building a world-class marketing team, identifying the key consumer issues, and the key business-related challenges,” Howe says.
The changes at Yum! Canada have already begun. Just a few short months after Howe’s return, Yum! announced in February that Toronto-based Grip Limited would become its new AOR, replacing Y&R (which had held the account for nine years) and beating 17 other agencies for the contract. The relationship kicked off with a TV spot for Pizza Hut in April, titled “Crime Scene,” in which blood-red handprints on a wall turn out to be sauce from the chain’s new WingStreet Wings. 
Yum! also recently regained responsibility for KFC’s Canadian marketing, which had been in the hands of Priszm Income Fund (owner of the world’s largest KFC franchisee, Priszm Limited Partnership) since 2003. Since this change, Grip has been promoting the new “Streetwise” value menu with a series of TV spots emphasizing low prices. Howe says another big push is planned for this fall, when new products will be launched, as well as a communication plan focused on the quality of KFC’s chicken and the care taken in preparing it fresh in store.
Undoubtedly, Howe will also use what he’s learned abroad to try to boost these flagging brands. “Although KFC and Taco Bell are not performing up to standards [in Canada], these brands are performing very well around the world and thus we have lots of great ideas to evaluate, steal and adapt,” he says.
Howe’s experience developing a marketing structure in Europe and then filling the new roles was good preparation for building a new team in Canada, and he says the job made him savvier about finance, operations and development as well.  
“It was a great cultural experience living in Europe,” he says. “I would strongly encourage Canadian marketers to explore expat assignments as a great way to develop their skills, career and for personal enjoyment.”


Born: Feb. 13, 1968
Education: Bachelor of business administration, Wilfrid Laurier University
Career path: He was director, retail services, at ACNielsen (1993-1998), then went on to become senior brand manager at Campbell’s Soup Company (2000-2005). He started at Yum! as director of marketing for Pizza Hut (2005-2007) and from there, he made the jump to CMO, Europe (2007-2009). Since November, he’s been CMO, Canada
Size of marketing team: He currently leads Yum!’s Canadian marketing team of 17. While in Europe, he led 10 Yum! marketers and 30 franchisee marketers


What’s your favourite Yum! meal?
That is like asking who is your favourite child, so let me tell you my favourite for each brand: KFC Boxmaster sandwich (launched in many countries in Europe and launched in July in Canada); Pizza Hut, The Edge Crust, Grilled Chicken Italiano recipe (launched in 2005 in Canada); and Taco Bell Mini Crunchwrap (launched this year in Canada).

What do you do to relax?
Play with my three girls as the “tickle monster,” ski with my wife and play hockey and ultimate.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Find ways to give in to the small things so that you can ask for a bold request on the big things.