Deanna Kotch (Red Lobster) - Authentic and Genuine

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This is a podcast episode titled, Deanna Kotch (Red Lobster) - Authentic and Genuine. The summary for this episode is: <p>Vincent and Ajay talk with Deanna Kotch, VP of Marketing at Red Lobster. She talks about how the brand keeps up with the changes over time and appealing to younger audiences. Ajay looks forward to the holiday season and vacations, and Vincent feels nostalgic for Red Lobster family dinners.</p>
How Deanna got into marketing
01:51 MIN
How to be effective in storytelling
02:26 MIN
How the younger audience engages with Red Lobster
02:34 MIN
How the pandemic changed Red Lobster's marketing
02:36 MIN
Looking into the future of the restaurant business
01:31 MIN
Shining moments with Deanna
01:36 MIN

Vin: Welcome to the 100th episode of The Marketing Stir Podcast by Stirista, probably the most entertaining marketing podcast you're going to put in your ear. I'm Vin, the associate producer here at Stirista. The goal of this podcast is to chat with industry leaders and get their take on the current challenges of the market. And we'll have a little fun along the way. Vincent and Ajay chat with Deanna Kotch, VP of Marketing at Red Lobster. She talks about how the brand keeps up with the changes over time appealing to younger audiences. Ajay looks forward to the holiday season and his vacation. And Vincent feels nostalgic for Red Lobster family dinners. Give it a listen.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to another episode of Stirista's The Marketing Stir. It is so great to be back talking to you. I, of course, am your host Vincent Pietrafesa. I shouldn't say of course like everyone knows me, they don't. Hey, we had some more listeners added since we last spoke. I again am Vincent Pietrafesa. I'm the Vice President of B2B Products and Partnerships here at Stirista. Who Stirista? I will tell you really quick and that is all you hear from me about Stirista on the podcast, at least. Stirista, we are a marketing technology company. We focus on identity. We own our own business- to- business data, business- to- consumer data. We help customers target that data to get new customers. Who doesn't need new customers? Isn't that great? Also, we own our own DSP so we are sending media, display, OTT, connected TV. We can help you reach those audiences. Email me at vincent @ stirista. com. That is how confident I am that we can help. I just gave all of our listeners my email address. I won't give you my phone number. I will not give you my phone number. However, my email address is there. The other thing I'm confident about, ladies and gentlemen, I say it every episode except for one episode when I was flying solo. He abandoned me, ladies and gentlemen. But he is here, ladies and gentlemen, my CEO, my commander- in- chief, Mr. Ajay Gupta. What's going on, Ajay?

Ajay Gupta: Hey, Vincent. I'm actually pretty excited about this episode. Little fun fact for you, my first girlfriend worked at this establishment. I won't give it away.

Vincent Pietrafesa: I love it. I know this is one of those episodes, Ajay, where... And I was telling this amazing guest as we... We've had some of those iconic brands on. A lot of times, we have brands on that people don't know about yet but hopefully they listen to the podcast as we bring them to light. But this one, you're going to smile. Look at the smile on my face. I'm excited. I'm happy. It brings back so many amazing memories. And we'll get to this amazing guest in a moment. We're just teasing you a little bit, our audience. But Ajay, what's new with you? I feel like I haven't seen you in a long time. I will see you soon because I will be in San Antonio. We are doing our second annual summit. It's virtual where we invite our amazing customers. We invite our amazing podcast guests. We invite people who are not customers yet to it, but I will see you then. But what's new with you?

Ajay Gupta: Just been busy. I think everybody is looking forward to the holiday season and ending the year so I'm no different. We are planning on taking a short vacation coming up here in the Thanksgiving week. So, yeah, I'm looking forward to it.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Nice. Where are you going? Are you going to the outskirts of Texas which I didn't realize there were beaches over there? And you were telling me there is.

Ajay Gupta: No. Actually, we have upgraded the beach. First time going to Hawaii.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Wow, look at that. I see you at Texas and I raised you a much nicer place. That's amazing. I have yet to be to Hawaii. I know a lot of people do that for their honeymoon. My wife and I did something different. We went to Argentina and Chile. We love the Mendoza wine region. I have some family in Argentina, a lot of Italians in Argentina. Ajay, I don't know if you knew that. So, that's amazing. That is very fun. You're going to love that. And also, last thing I'll say before we get to our amazing guest. Here's one thing I'm happy about, ladies and gentlemen, you will be happy to know that people are returning to conferences. People are returning to live events. I attended Programmatic I/ O here in New York City. I also had the honor of hosting. I was the master of ceremonies for the Silver Apple Awards for the Direct Marketing Club in New York. That was at the Edison Ballroom. People are coming back. So, I hope that people are going to start making those plans out to conferences. I know I'm looking forward to it, Ajay.

Ajay Gupta: Yeah. No, I was lucky enough to watch your video. Sorry, I couldn't make it out. And I don't like to compliment you but you killed it.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Thank you. Thank you. Yes. People who watch and listen to the podcast, they know that your compliments for me are very rare but they are meaningful when they do show up. So, I appreciate it.

Ajay Gupta: Well, I want you to be able to get out of your office because your head...

Vincent Pietrafesa: Yes. My head won't be able to fit out there. You're not the only one who says that. I think it's... I don't see the truth in that. But anyway, here's one thing I'm confident about. Again, I said this the second. I did say you, I'm confident about you and your ability so yes. But the other thing I'm confident is that I'm happy about is this next guest. The next guest is from a company... Let's going to sing a little song for you. I don't usually do this. For the seafood lover in you. What does that mean to people? Smiles, happiness. Red Lobster is with us. Ladies Gentlemen, Red Lobster. Please, a warm welcome. The Vice President of Marketing for Red Lobster, Deanna Kotch. What's going on, Deanna?

Deanna Kotch: Hey, Ajay. Hey, Vincent. How are you doing? Thank you for having me here.

Vincent Pietrafesa: We are so happy to have you here. I didn't do that song justice. I know. I'm more of a...

Deanna Kotch: Well, that was fantastic.

Vincent Pietrafesa: The singing, not the best of singers but that... No, I never sang on the podcast. But Red Lobster is one of those brands, of course the establishment that brings back amazing memories. Ajay, you said your ex- girlfriend worked there. I remember... For me, Red Lobster was a place that was special. You don't go to Red Lobster every night although that would be amazing. I'm sure Red Lobster would love that. But it's a special occasion. It's special, you go there and seafood. It's the Cheddar Bay Biscuits. Come on. Those things are the most amazing thing in the world.

Deanna Kotch: We hear that from a lot of our guests, absolutely. Yeah.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Exactly.

Deanna Kotch: This is the way that I grew up with. My family, we would go there every Sunday after church. So, that was our spot. I would order a Shirley Temple and order as many maraschino cherries I could pack into it. And that was my first memory of Red Lobster. So yes, it's very nostalgic in people's minds and part of their lives growing up which is really a cool place to be in people's history.

Vincent Pietrafesa: It is. There's maybe a handful of restaurants where people think that. There's maybe a handful of that. And as for me, Red Lobster was a special occasion. If something happened, there was like a birthday, my mother, she was like, " Let's go to Red Lobster." And then it was a great night. It was always packed. It was always a wait but it was worth the wait. And yeah, that's why I was so excited to have you on just talk about that. So, one of the questions we normally ask right off the bat is kind of like, well, tell us about Red Lobster. If you don't know Red Lobster, you are living under a rock. But let's go into this other question. Let's go into tell us about your role within Red Lobster, as I mentioned, the Vice President of Marketing there. Tell us about that, some of the day to day that you're involved in? We'd love to hear that.

Deanna Kotch: Sure, absolutely. So, my job is to lead a team to develop all the great promotional messages and advertising creative that you see from Red Lobster. So, really, my job is to design creative that drives crave for seafood to get you off your couch and come into the restaurant or order online. So, we do everything from working with our culinary team to put together great advertising platforms featuring certain dishes or unique dayparts. We also then work with multiple agencies. We have a great creative team in Toronto that does all our creative work. A good media team also in New York that helps us with our media buys. So we collaborate with them on what channels we should be in, how should we shoot the creative, what's the creative concept, and bring it all the way through to execution and launch. I also have a small team under me that works on all the menu design. So, we're in the process of actually redesigning our entire menu which will go live early next year. And so, we're a small yet mighty team that's really busy but ultimately, our goal is to drive crave for seafood, Cheddar Bay Biscuits and get you to come into our restaurants. So, sounds simple.

Vincent Pietrafesa: No. But yeah, that was a lot of work. I know that. And before I get to my other question about how you got started in marketing, I sang that old" for the seafood lover in you," I know that's not the current but that's engraved in my head, beautifully engraved in my head. But tell us about what's the current theme to your campaign that you have out there?

Deanna Kotch: Absolutely. Our campaign right now is called Honest to Good Seafood. And that was really born during... It came out during the past year so you may not have heard a ton about it with all the other noise going on. But Honest to Good Seafood is really about being authentic and genuine with our guests. So, our ads in the past really focused a lot on really super tight shots of seafood, a lot of trickery with our photography. And what we started to see throughout the years was our ads started to look a lot like some of our competitor ads. So, the competition starts to catch up with you and from a visual standpoint. And what we were starting to see was a little bit of a sea of sameness out in the casual dining marketplace. So Honest to Good came about because it has a more editorial feel to our photography. There's this beauty in the imperfection of the food a bit. So, not everything is so perfectly styled or overly shot. We really get into the crave in different ways by showing fresh ingredients and freshness cues. We also love to cut into our seafood to show the nice texture of a nice beautiful salmon and really bring that to live. So it's about genuine, authentic seafood that's great for you. So, that's really the campaign right now. And we really are bringing it to life mostly in our digital channels as we speak. We've did a really big pivot out of the world of television into the world of digital. And that really started back during once we got into the pandemic.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Nice. And I know Ajay is chomping at the bits to ask you some questions. But how you got into marketing? We love asking our guests this question because it's not always a traditional path. But I see you have a lot of experience at some amazing brands as well in marketing. Tell us how you got there.

Deanna Kotch: Sure. So, one of my first jobs, I was hired to be a sales manager for the Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort by Disney World. And it's a great property. It was very kids- focused. And although it was a sales role, the hotel was so unique that you had a big story to tell. And we learned quickly that telling the story in order to compete with a plethora of hotels that were in Orlando was the key to this. So, it turned really into a marketing and sales job because we would not only just have a quota as far as the number of rooms we needed to fill, it was also about educating travel agents and educating tour operators on the unique offerings of the property. So, I started to fall in love with the idea of storytelling. And also, a good story sells a great experience. People want to come to Orlando. They wanted to experience the destination, but they didn't really know a lot about it. And so, by through the art of storytelling, we would help them with their vacation planning. And one of the things that that hotel particularly offered was this new invention at the time called Kids Suites which were actually rooms within a room where the children and the adults could actually be in one room together yet have their own separate spaces. And that was at the time revolutionary in the hotel industry. And telling that story and selling that idea at the same time was really powerful. And that's how we really as a hotel chain started to grow. And that property actually then morphed into what was eventually the Nickelodeon Hotel down in Orlando. So yeah, I started in the hotel business. I rotated over to the Nickelodeon Hotel when we opened that property that had a tremendous story to tell behind it, partnering with Viacom and all the great Nickelodeon partners we had there. And then, I just fell in love with marketing. I love that idea of how do you tell the art of storytelling to sell a product to consumers. So, I just fell in love with it.

Ajay Gupta: All right, so related question to storytelling then, what are some of the important features of effective storytelling? And what makes for good storytelling?

Deanna Kotch: Absolutely. I think it's really tying into a consumer insight or our consumer truth that someone can relate to. So, you can always talk about the products and the features and the benefits of something. But if you really can bring in that emotional side of things that make it relatable to people, it's really magical. One of my jobs was working for Visit Orlando. And as a Director of Marketing there, the art of storytelling and selling a destination like Orlando was truly magical. People would save their money for entire year to come on vacation here. And so they wanted to do it right. So, how do you package together places that have great theme parks and dining and entertainment and a way for families to think about the destination and ensure that they're getting the best bang for their dollar. So, through the art of storytelling, it's your younger kids and you want to bring out the wonder of the magic over at Disney. This is what you can do there. If you want to discover animals and the magic of that, we have a great partner in our theme parks here at SeaWorld. And also, if you're an adventure person, you get into the heart of those adventurous and we've got great rollercoasters over at Universal. So, it's bringing those truths out into your campaigns and bringing them to life so it really connects with the consumer.

Ajay Gupta: And then in terms of connecting the storytelling back to Red Lobster's core audience, is there been changes to the core audiences? And what does it look like today?

Deanna Kotch: Yeah. So, our core audience is defined right now as a Middle America which is probably no surprise. But I will say Middle America is also split for us as well. We look at our core guests and we definitely over- index in what we call these quality traditionalists which are older, a little bit higher income. They're potentially empty nesters or close to that at this point. And they've been part of our brand for a very, very long time. Those guests like our traditional food, our traditional classics. And they look for that and they expect that from us. And they expect a consistent quality of that over the years. But it's surprising. We do have a younger demographic that is finding our brand. And it's really exciting, too, to start talking to this younger demographic. And especially as we've pivoted out of television into a more digital media mix, we're really finding cool ways to connect with those guests and bring them into the brand which is really exciting right now for us.

Vincent Pietrafesa: And Deanna, I wanted to focus on that because you mentioned some of the changes you made a lot more digital. What are some channels? This being The Marketing Stir, we'd love to get some of the channels out there that are working for you. Tell us about that pivot? And what are the channels that you're marketing in currently?

Deanna Kotch: Yeah. So just one step back, we used to be a big broadcast TV advertiser. Pre- COVID, we would go into the annual upfronts. And we would have a robust cable television by that was supported by digital. And then, we started to make changes to the brand prior to COVID. And when COVID hit, we went dark like a lot of brands did. What we decided to do is pivot to be digital forward. And by doing so, we are placing our money into different channels as you said. We recently completed a matched market test where we were pressure testing audiences and channels against each other. And what we saw was that there was a lot of emerging channels that were working rather well for us and getting after those younger growth audiences. I would say, right now, Facebook is still one of our strongest social channels. So we are in the Facebook Instagram world. We do use a little bit of Twitter. We also have ventured into TikTok, believe it or not. And that's where it's really exciting to see some of those younger growth audiences respond. We go into Pinterest seasonally right now with the holidays coming up. We find that that's a great platform for party platters and gift card messaging. Things are a little bit unique to that platform. And then, we still do a robust programmatic buy, as well as use email marketing. And then as far as online video, we are primarily in like a Hulu or Youtube world with 6 seconds or 15- second ads. We haven't layering back in television in a different way. So, we're doing some buys through one of our partners where we are on cable TV in a very light format. So, we're pressure testing the waters of how much we can get back into television right now and how much it will show us a good return on investment. So, I will say we have a very diverse mix of channels. Social's always been a rather strong channel for us. And what we're trying to learn right now is with the reduced budgets that we have, which channels were the hardest for us and are the most effective at this time. So, it's an evolving thing that we continuously pressure test and watch and learn.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah, thanks for sharing that. I also would think the younger audience, a lot of the younger audiences and I don't know if I'm still young or not, but I feel that because Red Lobster is an experience, it's the food, it's so visual. One person doesn't go to Red Lobster. You got two people. You have a family. You have a party. With people always taking pictures of their food, videos, I think that would really rang true for Red Lobster. But my question really around that is what are you noticing with the younger audiences? How are they doing? Friends, I remember taking dates to Red Lobster. I remember. That was special. If I really liked someone, it's a Red Lobster moment. Also if it was a special occasion, you mentioned after church for you, special occasion with my family, and it was a big thing. I had a single mom and it was a big deal going to Red Lobster for us, and it still is for people. So, talk to me about how you feel the younger audiences is engaging with Red Lobster.

Deanna Kotch: Yeah. So, it's really interesting because there was this theory that we were doing a really good job talking to our core guests. But our core guests will only take us so far into the future so we needed to start expanding that into younger audiences. But by doing so, we also felt we needed some food that was a little bit more relevant for them. So, at the same time, our culinary team was working on more relevant and more value- focused foods. So, back in the summer, we introduced some seafood bowls that were delicious. We introduced, believe it or not, a Wagyu Bacon Cheeseburger that is absolutely fantastic, a Crispy Cod Sandwich that's so big, it falls off the bun and people called it a Codzilla. So, it was more like handhelds and bowls and value- focused yet relevant food, not the big feasts and platters. We still had those. But what we're finding is that the younger audiences were more engaged with that new food. And we did a really cool thing. We took a food truck to Atlanta and parked it in the middle of Piedmont Park, unbranded completely. And we had some of that new food in that food truck and we gave it away. And we filmed people's reactions to the food when they found out it was Red Lobster. And it was overwhelmingly positive. I would say maybe 9% of the people coming through had not been to our brand or had not been to a brand in a long time. So, it was exposing a very diverse audience, a younger audience, too, to our brand in a very unique way. And the comments that we got on video are amazing that we then edited together. And in a way of being scrappy and producing things in a world where you didn't have big studio dollars to do this, it turned out to be a really cool consumer engagement with that. But we learned quickly that the right food, the right audience really works. So then, how do you apply that and find the right media channels to put that in? So, running this and targeting it correctly in a social like if it was Facebook and Instagram, we would then target those younger guests. We would also target people who may not be followers of our brand but have the propensity to come into the brand. So, maybe they were a Chipotle guests and they were looking at more fast- casual- type of guests, looking at the bowls that you would get at Panera or Chipotle. Well, now we have similar things that they would never have thought of about until they were exposed to it. So, that's another way of getting into the side part of the competition, not your direct competitors and bringing people into the brand, too. So yeah, it worked really well, that activation. And like I said, if you can get the right food to the right audience and the right channel, we see a lot of magic with that.

Ajay Gupta: Yeah. One of the first places I went back to when restaurants reopened here in Texas was in Red Lobster just so I could get my unlimited biscuits there. So, it's hard to replicate that through a food delivery.

Deanna Kotch: That's right.

Ajay Gupta: So, related to the pandemic, obviously, many industries were hit hard and restaurants probably more so than most. How did that affect your marketing? And since the... Well, I guess we're still in the pandemic, but how has it changed?

Deanna Kotch: Completely it's changed. So, as I mentioned earlier, like a lot of our competitors, we just went dark because our restaurants were shut down. We were forced to go to off- premise business. I will say our off- premise team and our IT team worked tremendously fast because our off- premise business was not that strong, a part of our business pre- pandemic. There was a lot of theories that seafood doesn't travel well and maybe it's something I don't want to get to go. But we had to change that perception. So quickly, we work from a technology side, and this is no credit to me but to the IT team, on how we could make the ordering process easier and safer for guests so that they could get rapid curbside pickup fast. From a marketing side, we worked with the culinary team to say, " What can we bring together? What was relevant right now? And a lot of things like family meal deals were popular then. So we brought together healthy family meal deals with our salmon bowls or salmon fillets and different ways of packaging our food together. So, it was like one- stop shop for mom or dad if they wanted to pick up meals for the family. We focused on that. We stopped all our limited time offers. It just didn't make sense to have those. Those were causing a lot of churn on our restaurants. But also, we weren't driving people into a lot of our restaurants at the time. So we really stripped back the core menu and said, " This is a moment in time to reset the business." So, another team worked on developing some of that new relevant food that I talked about and working on that quickly on the side. And then, we from a marketing standpoint, from a communication side would say, " How do we take what's coming off from core that's new and package that together in a way that's relevant and talk about that to our guests?" So, a lot of focus on delivery, a lot of focus on pickup and with the Rapid Red Curbside pickup technology that we introduced, a lot of focus on those packaged meal deals, ways to make it easier for families. We would pull some free delivery offers or 10% off or things like that and pressure test just coupons. But you had to stay nimble because the world was changing so fast. Restaurants would start to open when others weren't. It was sometimes county by county, state by state. So we just had to stay nimble and we still are staying nimble. Even in the world now where everything is open and everyone is operating fully, there still are other concerns to deal with from staffing into supply chain and things like that, too. So, I think the key is it made us work nimble and smarter and get scrappier, too, and ensure that the dollars we did spend were working as hard as possible for us. And that's going to probably stay true from now on. It's just a different approach that we have.

Ajay Gupta: Yeah. And I think the world has generally changed so Vincent and I come in five days a week, but most of the other people are coming in a couple of times a week and it's probably here to stay that way in our offices. But do you see that change happening in the restaurant business as well where people are going to restaurants less or wring out more? Is that here to stay you think?

Deanna Kotch: I think the demand is actually there. It's now becoming a share game. How do you still share from the competition? So, I do think To Go is still going to stay. As our restaurants are now reopened completely, our percentage of our To Go business is much higher than it was pre- pandemic. So, I don't think that behavior is going to change. I think people want what they want when they want it. And if it means ordering it through our app and getting it delivered to their door, that's perfectly fine with us, we're actually thrilled. So, I think that's just a new mindset for people. And as a new thing, restaurants have to wrap their heads around to. So again, it's like staying up to date and staying relevant with what consumers want and are looking for. I think right now, the other things consumers are really hitting hard on is value. They're looking for value everywhere. So, there's times in the past when we used to do limited- time- only offers that had no price points in them at all. And they would be really nice, beautiful fees, but they weren't value- centric. So now, we need to balance that. How do we think about, how do we offer value? How do you still get great seafood meal but envelop that in a value- offer broadcast? And that's something we're working on to launch soon.

Vincent Pietrafesa: And Deanna, I remember you were talking about it. I remember that campaign about the food truck.

Deanna Kotch: Yeah.

Vincent Pietrafesa: And I love that idea of the sandwich and the bowl because I think so many people are consuming food that way. The memory I have of Red Lobster is the sit down, the feast. I made sure I ordered the feasts, especially my parents were paying. I remember that. But for me, I love... Of course in New York City, you order out a lot but I love going into restaurants. You touched upon it, but talk about where you see the future of restaurants going in a way, like that business in general?

Deanna Kotch: Yeah. Well, I think for... I mean, when I rethink about us, you mentioned earlier, we were always a special occasion place. And even not just us but other brands too, you got to think about how you are more of an everyday option for guests. So, you've got to have the right products and food and the right services so that you fit those need states. So, we were very special occasion. You would go for your birthdays, your anniversaries, your first dates and have those big meals. But if we're going to grow the brand and grow our guest base, you've got to be relevant for lunch. I should be able to go there on a Thursday afternoon and get in and out for lunch and not overpay and have a really good value. If I don't have time to stop in on the way home from work and I want to feed my family, I should be able to swing in and pick up something quickly and be easy. So, I think for restaurants and the casual dining space, I think there's always going to be a demand there but I do think it's a share game with us to say, " How are you best serving the guests' needs," and that's where the consumer is going to go. I think there's always brand loyalty and there's always crave. So, there's always a time of year that we know during the springtime around Lent, people are craving lobster and that's why you see things like lobster feast and lobster dishes come out from us then. But there's also this everyday need state you have. And the world has changed as you said, not everybody is going to work. People are working from home and how do you take your branding adaptive for peoples' lives and become relevant for them every day?

Vincent Pietrafesa: Yeah. I love that. And because the food is so good and I love that you're adapting. I don't think there's not a lot of ... You don't hear that about a lot of other restaurants so they're not adapting. Maybe they're getting a QR code, great, you're adapting, we get it. But I love that, just making it value- driven because the food has always been amazing. Now, having more people get access to that. And then growing up with that, so if you're a younger person and you're starting to get into the restaurants with the bowls and the sandwiches, then you're going to grow up with that and bring your family there and you're just going to keep it. So, I love that. I love what you're doing there. I want to talk about just the hospitality business in general. And specifically to you, what's drawn you to this hospitality business?

Deanna Kotch: So, personal passions of mine are travel, I will go pretty much anywhere, food wine. And so growing up, I grew up in South Florida, we would come up to Orlando on a biweekly basis it felt like. I just loved like I was the person that plan the experiences in the family. I was the oldest. I was in charge. And that was my job. So, I would grab every brochure on the Turnpike. And I would put together what we would do is we would drive from here to like the Carolinas. But I just love the whole idea of an experience. And I know there's a lot of marketers out there that work for different CPG companies and they're fabulous. But I remember talking to someone once and she was so excited that she came from... She sold bug spray and nothing wrong with that. But I'm like, " Wow, how do you get excited about that?" When you sell an experience, when you sell a destination like Orlando or you sell a hotel experience that's got great stuff for kids and families or you sell a brand like Red Lobster or even Olive Garden in the past where I was at, you're selling a family meal and an experience. I feel like there's so much... It's such a richer product to sell in my opinion that I feel personally more attached to that than I would a certain product or anything. So, it just follows my passions personally. Yeah.

Ajay Gupta: Deanna, can you tell us a little bit more about the work you did on the campaign to integrate Red Lobster in a Sea to Table story?

Deanna Kotch: Absolutely. So, back when we were pretty big TV advertisers, we worked with Discovery Channel. And we had the opportunity to integrate our brand with the Deadliest Catch which was a completely natural integration because those captains do catch our crab. They had been well before that show ever started. So, that was a perfect integration with our brand. So, for three years, we grew that integration and worked with different sets of captains. We became very close friends with a lot of them to this day. We still talk. But their jobs are incredible what they do and their lives they put at risk to go out. And that whole story about this is a generational fishing story is amazing when you really get to know them and what they do and how important it is what they do. There are laws of the sea that they follow and there's laws of the sea that we abide by. So, that journey of that crab came from this boat. And is now on my plate is a hundred percent true. And it's something we're really proud about. So, we worked and told the story in different ways. We actually told a generational story the first season with the Northwestern boat. We then moved and told a story about different angles of the sourcing story from Captains Casey and Captain Josh. We even worked with the captains one time to do a competition amongst three of them to come up with a dish that was then featured in our restaurants. So, we're actually getting ready to do something even bigger with that network when COVID hit unfortunately so we had to pull back. But I hope one day, we'll get to work with them again.

Ajay Gupta: That's awesome. In terms of kind of with the world going more digital and the amount of work you already do in the digital side, is email a good channel for you, as well as is that something you use for loyalty marketing as well?

Deanna Kotch: Yeah, 100%. We actually have another vice president, my counterpart. She leads the loyalty program for our team. But you're right, once you can get your guests into our loyalty database, they become extremely valuable to you. And you get to know them and you know how to communicate with them even better. So, she just reached I think 10 million members. So we're really proud about that. And she did win an award for that as well, not for reaching the 10 million but for being a great loyalty program. So, we're extremely proud. And we do work to get people into that program as much as we can. There's great... It's easy to earn rewards and those rewards are delicious. They're usually appetizers and desserts and different things that we can come up with. So, we are working... I know she's working on some plans to get some special access to those numbers which if you are part of that program, you can get. And yes, a hundred percent, I think that is a great compliment to a nice medium mix is to have that loyalty programs supporting it.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Absolutely. We've had some other organizations on who really pushed for the loyalty program. I'm loyal to those programs. So, I think that's a great idea. Let's switch gears a little and I want to ask you our signature question that we ask here. I know she's like, " Wait. What are you talking about?" So, if you've ever listened to the podcast, we ask a question. Especially someone, a brand like Red Lobster, someone like you, experienced VP of Marketing there. LinkedIn, you probably solicited about 98 times a day from people on LinkedIn. Actually, it's like 3, 000 people. But we always ask this question. What is a message on LinkedIn, Deanna, that resonates with you, that says, " You know what? Let me get back to this person." And then on the flip side, the more fun answer I think is, what is just a message that you hate that you never respond to? We've had about almost a hundred guests answered this question.

Deanna Kotch: Then I'm in good company.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Yes.

Deanna Kotch: Okay. So not quite 98, but I'm not exaggerating when I say about 10 to 15 a day which is a lot. And it's extremely difficult to respond to that. I will say a good one is, "Do you want to be on my podcast?" No.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Right. That's a good one. So, start a podcast and then you will get Deanna on your... That will get her attention. Well, don't start a podcast. Don't start a podcast.

Deanna Kotch: Listen, it certainly got my attention. And I actually did pass it along to our agency. So, I mean, it is a very smart play. I guess a good one is a genuine request. I wish LinkedIn was what I thought it would be when I first signed up for it, was a great way for your professional colleagues to stay connected, support each other, give out referrals and things like that, almost be like the anti- Facebook or for your coworkers. And I thought, " This is great." And then, as you progress in life and career, you're right, it becomes more of this hardcore solicitation tool. So, I think... I know, it's hard to say. A good one is like a genuine connection. People want to feel like it's something that fits with what I'm doing. I get a lot that don't. May or may not be needed by the brand but it's an open invitation to explore. So, it's more of a genuine approach. I think the ones that don't work for me are the ones that think it's the only message I'm getting and come after you multiple times, or go to your boss, or the person they think is your boss, and then use their name to come after you as well. That's always a fun one, too. They're like, " I connected to this person who I think is your boss and therefore, you should call me back." And I'm like, " Yeah, no." And that person retired by the way.

Vincent Pietrafesa: That, I love that.

Deanna Kotch: Yeah. And I think the only other ones I would say to stay away from are if they get too creepy. I've had some gifts sent to me where they're like, " I saw you went to Florida State and therefore, I sent you this great stuffed animal from FSU," which is nice and creepy. So, I just think if there's a way to make a genuine connection and genuinely connect your product to them, but also know and respect that they probably have like long standing contracts and relationships with agencies and partners, too. So, it's a balance. So if they don't get back to you right away, give them a breathing room. Don't hound them. Try to make a genuine connection as much as possible. And just understand that... I'm sure if I'm getting 10 to 15 a day, I'm sure other people are getting you even more than that. So, that would be my best advice.

Vincent Pietrafesa: So, let me tell you something. So, out of a hundred, we've never heard that response before of the boss and the gifts.

Deanna Kotch: You haven't?

Vincent Pietrafesa: Right, Ajay? We've heard of like...

Ajay Gupta: Yeah. No, we have not heard that one.

Vincent Pietrafesa: No. Now, there's going to probably people who are going to use that out there. So it's like you just research it and you say, " Hey, Stephanie or Bill said to reach out to you." And you're like, " Stephanie retired 11 years ago. What are you talking about?" This is hysterical.

Deanna Kotch: Yes. So, you had a CEO who is retired and his name gets used a lot. But also before he retired, he has a very unique middle name which is part of his LinkedIn which he never uses professionally. So when they would use his middle name to me, I knew for sure he hadn't referred... because he never used it. So, it was yeah, there's...

Vincent Pietrafesa: I like it.

Deanna Kotch: ...a inaudible in there.

Vincent Pietrafesa: That's a good one, Deanna. And also, I get the Florida State and it would be creepier even if it's like at your door, " Hey, I've got a stuffed animal." But yeah, that's great.

Ajay Gupta: Yeah. I had that one creepy one which was actually funny. This lady kept emailing me. And finally she said, " I'm starting to sound like your crazy girlfriend now."

Vincent Pietrafesa: Your creepy like crazy ex- girl but I'm like ...

Ajay Gupta: Yeah, creepy ex- girlfriend.

Vincent Pietrafesa: It's like, " You are."

Deanna Kotch: How do you let it go? How do you make it stop? I don't know.

Vincent Pietrafesa: Well, LinkedIn makes it easy with especially in males. There's like a, " No, I'm not interested." I'll at least do that. And that's one of the things I do because I value my network. So, if you're listening, don't be creepy. Don't use a boss who's retired. Start a podcast in that. So, Deanna, another question we ask most of our guests. I love your... We even talked about this. I love your rise just within Red Lobster because you had multiple positions within marketing that now, you're the Vice President of Marketing, talk to me about a moment you're proud of in your career at Red Lobster, whether it'd be a campaign, whether it'd be a problem you solved, just a shining moment that you want to mention.

Deanna Kotch: Yeah. I mean, one of the things I'm most proud of and I know I talked about this earlier is that integration with Deadliest Catch. And I say this because what I didn't say earlier was when I first joined the company, they had negotiated this deal, our agency did, to get us this added- value opportunity. And at the time, nobody is in this company, in this role anymore. They were just going to use the added- value and turn it into extra TRPs for television. And I walked in and I said, " That's great. We always love extra media wave. But here's a golden opportunity to tell the story we've been sitting on and we've tested on with our guests and we know resonates well. We know people want brands stand for something and have a purpose. And we've been doing the right thing for a long time. So we should take this opportunity to say this television show is featuring the men that go out into the ocean and catch the food that ends up on your plate." And so, I was really proud to get that passed. And the first time we filmed with them, I was extremely proud to then see that on TV and then to grow that over three years was fantastic. We grew it into different vignettes, different stories. It grew out of discovery into more of the Scripps Network Television Series. And we were just this close to doing something with Food Network at the time. And unfortunately, we may have to get back to that. But that was a really cool moment. It was like the first time we got out of just promotional messaging into more of a brand story telling about who we are as a brand and what we stand for. So, that was a proud moment with Red Lobster.

Vincent Pietrafesa: So also, we're coming to a close here, Deanna. Time has flown by. Talk to me about... We'd like to get to know people on the personal side as well here. Talk to us about what you like doing in your spare time, what do you like doing for fun, anything that you also took on during the pandemic? We always hear those stories of like, " I baked bread now and I never used to bake bread." I'm like, " That sounds amazing," if it's good. If it's not good, it doesn't sound great.

Deanna Kotch: So, my biggest passion is travel. So, I love to travel. And I think that was the hardest thing to do not doing during the pandemic was not travel. But I did figure out ways to still do that. So I just got back from a culinary trip to Maine. I was there last week. And it was amazing. I had never been to Maine before but I eat a lot of lobster, a lot of oysters. And so, anything that's wrapped around food and travel is my jam. So personally, that's my thing. I left the country very later in life. I was in college and I moved to Germany and I worked at a hotel and restaurant over there for seven months and did an internship. And once I did that, you couldn't keep me in the country. So, you name the place that's... Usually, I have a list of where I want to go and I can't wait to check it off. So, personally, travel is one of my biggest passions for sure.

Vincent Pietrafesa: I love it. Yeah. And I always like to travel around places where I know there's going to be good food.

Deanna Kotch: Yup.

Vincent Pietrafesa: I love it. We've been to Maine, my wife and I. It's great. We did all the amazing food there. Like I said, my honeymoon was around food and wine. It was around Argentina and all the great beef out there. And all the great Malbecs for like$ 3 that are like$ 48 over here. So, we lived it up. I went to Santiago, Chile. Oh, it was amazing. That's awesome. I hope you get back out there traveling. Ajay is traveling. You're traveling. I got to get out there myself. But this has been amazing, Deanna. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you so much for continuing that amazing brand, Red Lobster, we love it. We appreciate you being on The Marketing Stir. That is the Vice President of Marketing of Red Lobster, Deanna Kotch. I'm Vincent Pietrafesa. That's Ajay Gupta. This has been another episode of The Marketing Stir. Give it a listen. You will find a lot of unique stuffs and listen to that LinkedIn answer. I love it. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us. We'll talk to you soon.

Vin: Thanks for listening to The Marketing Stir podcast by Stirista. Please like, rate and subscribe. If you're interested in being a guest on the podcast, email us at themarketingstir @ stirista. com. And thanks for listening.


Vincent and Ajay talk with Deanna Kotch, VP of Marketing at Red Lobster. She talks about how the brand keeps up with the changes over time and appealing to younger audiences. Ajay looks forward to the holiday season and vacations, and Vincent feels nostalgic for Red Lobster family dinners.

Today's Host

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Vincent Pietrafesa

|Vice President, B2B Products, Stirista
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Ajay Gupta

|Founder & CEO, Stirista

Today's Guests

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Deanna Kotch

|VP of Marketing
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