Cathy Hull began her new role as Marco’s Pizza’s first chief marketing officer on Monday, and she already has laid out plans to elevate a vision for the chain’s marketing to match the brand’s long-term strategy of rapid franchise growth.

She joined 425-unit Toledo, Ohio-based Marco’s after four years as chief marketing officer for Lexington, Ky.-based Fazoli’s, which she helped reposition from a quick-service Italian brand toward the fast-casual space with upgrades to the menu, service format and marketing. With Marco’s, she sees familiar opportunities to find a clear brand message built around quality and authenticity, and to amplify that message through new marketing platforms, she said.

“It’s a great-quality product and has great service, a nice heritage and a real story to tell,” Hull said.

Hull spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about steering the marketing at one of the industry’s fastest-growing brands.

You were on a good run at Fazoli’s. What drew you to the Marco’s Pizza job?

I wasn’t looking to make a move, but then opportunity knocked. I loved the Fazoli’s brand, and we worked very hard to get where we were, and the brand was in a good spot. With Marco’s, I saw a concept that was growing very aggressively, with a high-quality product and an enthusiastic team. I saw it as an opportunity to go in and elevate a brand, which is what I like to do. I was familiar with Marco’s but had no idea of the growth path they’re on, and that piqued my interest as somebody who likes to build brands.

Industry observers probably know Marco’s best for its rapid expansion through franchising. How do you support a brand like that and make sure the marketing keeps up with all the new franchisees?

We have to put some disciplines in place to keep up with the growth we have now. There is an obvious opportunity to align the entire system against a variety of approaches. I really think that it’s about building some disciplines on the marketing and branding side as we continue to grow. There is some consumer insight work that can go into a long-term strategic plan, and while there’s a vision on growth, the brand vision on marketing could be enhanced.

I’m looking at it holistically and asking what Marco’s stands for. When somebody hears about Marco’s, what do they think first? In pizza, there are a lot of brands out there, from the major chains to regionals and mom-and-pops. We need a clear message we can project about Marco’s and why consumers should pick Marco’s over the plethora of other brands. Once I dive in and get into the weeds, I think there’s going to be some opportunities in the whole social-local-mobile world. Pizza is a convenience food, and you have to tap into that at every level you can.

How do you view the competitive landscape? Marco’s is a strong regional chain in a segment where the largest national brands are on TV all the time, setting the price of a large pizza.

Street fighting is a big deal. I’m a big believer in broadcast, but as I look through it, I really think telling the story and having an integrated-marketing approach locally is how we’ll get the message out. Big chains might set the price, but that’s only to a point. You look at independent and other regional menus, and there’s still a lot to say about quality, innovation and top-notch customer service, and that’s all what Marco’s can bring to the marketplace. I’m not worried about the big guys, and I absolutely respect them. But there’s a platform for this brand, and we can continue to grow.

There is also a growing fast-casual segment in pizza. Will all those new brands pose a challenge to Marco’s and other delivery chains?

Well, pizza was the first customizable food. So it’s really taking pizza and putting it into more of a dine-in and carryout format versus delivery. Does that steal share of stomach in pizza? If there’s a new competitor that can do carryout and dine-in, are customers then less likely to get delivery on the weekend if they went to one of these guys for lunch on Tuesday? That remains to be seen.

But we’re all chasing market share, and there’s also good pizza in grocery stores. It’s on the radar, because it plays to a certain pizza audience. As I’ve studied the industry population, where growth is not expected to be robust the next few years, it’ll be a share game across the food industry. I was chasing the same thing at Fazoli’s. What the fast-casual guys benefit from — and Papa Murphy’s scores high on quality and freshness too for this reason — is that people can walk in and see the fresh mushrooms and veggies going on their pizzas. That’s something there that might be interesting. But at the end of the day, we’ll watch them as closely as we would watch any competitor.

Contact Mark Brandau at mark.brandau@penton.com.
>Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN