Pizzaiolo hires marketing vet to fuel expansion

The Toronto-based pizza chain will begin investing more heavily in marketing with the help of a former Pizza Pizza CMO.

delivery boxes (2)Toronto-born Pizzaiolo is attempting to use the pandemic as an opportunity for growth, boosting investment in marketing and opening new locations with the help of a new chief operating and marketing officer.

Founded in 2000, the pizza QSR has historically worked to grow its business through word-of-mouth. The bulk of any promotional work has been handled by CEO and founder Luigi Petrella, with some assistance from consultants and family.

But in mid-2020, Petrella approached Pat Finelli – an industry veteran and former Pizza Pizza CMO – looking for help pivoting the business as on-premise dining and downtown foot traffic dried up as a result of work-from-home orders and new dining routines. Finelli says he began consulting with Petrella on ways to increase its online presence, introduce contactless delivery, as well as value messaging.

What began as an informal relationship has turned into a full-time gig for Finelli, now the chain’s COO and CMO, who will work to further build the brand across Ontario.

Finelli is working with Pizzaiolo to ramp up marketing communications across channels, including radio, TV, social media and direct mail, and to build a strong innovation pipeline, believing the brand can stand out from competitors through its quality ingredients. Within the last few months, the chain introduced gluten-free and cauliflower crusts, for example, with other product innovations in the works, according to Finelli.

The marketer and COO is also expected to play a role supporting Pizzaiolo’s expansion across the GTA and Ontario. It has opened three new restaurants within the last eight months, adding to a network of more than 40 locations, with plans to open 10 more in 2021.

While the three new shops are located in Toronto at 1528 Danforth Ave, 366 Bloor Street East and 770 Bay Street – areas of the city that are comparatively less busy than before the pandemic – Finelli says he’s optimistic the locations will thrive once COVID-19 vaccines are rolled out and the world returns to some degree of normalcy.

However, the company is also using the opportunity to look for franchisees in other GTA markets, with plans to open stores in North Mississauga, North Oakville, Brampton, Woodbridge, Aurora, Hamilton, Markham and Scarborough.

The new locations will all have Pizzaiolo’s new branding that emphasizes quality, which was developed with help from agency Good & Ready in 2019. Finelli says the company is now executing “85% of that vision,” having made some minor tweaks as it continues to renovate new and existing shops.

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Finelli has more than 35 years of experience in the pizza business. He first joined competitor Pizza Pizza as an accountant in 1983, made his way through the ranks and was appointed the company’s first CMO in 2005. Before leaving in 2018, he had become part of Pizza Pizza’s public-facing image, frequently serving as a spokesperson and appearing in its radio advertising.

Now in his new role, Finelli says he feels comfortable handling most marketing duties himself, though the company works with Media Dimensions on media planning and buying for more extensive campaigns.

For now, the extra marketing investment will come directly from Petrella and the family business. As part of its franchising model, franchisees pay a flat marketing fee of $1,500 dollars in exchange for support on regional and local marketing campaigns – and that won’t be changing, says Finelli.

“We’re going to be doing a couple of different things throughout the year with an increased budget to have Ontarians try the Pizzaiolo experience,” he says, noting the company partnered with GTA-based Italian pastry shop Holy Cannoli on a Valentine’s Day promotion over the weekend. “I just want people to try it. Once they try it, we can take market share from other players – I have no doubt in my mind.”