Work & Wellbeing Business Leadership

The Judges’ Club: meet Frito-Lay’s senior vice-president and CMO Rachel Ferdinando

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By Ellen Ormesher | Reporter

May 3, 2022 | 7 min read

Continuing our new interview series where we get to know the judges of The Drum Awards a little better, we sit down with Rachel Ferdinando, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer at Frito-Lay North America and 2022 chair of The Drum Awards for Marketing judging panel, to find out more about her journey to the top.

How did you get your start in the industry?

Many people are surprised to learn that I got my start in sales, which is where I was first introduced to the power of connecting with customers through a grassroots approach. The value of consumer-centricity has really stuck with me throughout my career and continues to be a big priority for us at Frito-Lay. One example of this is our recent Solid Black campaign for Doritos, where we teamed up with several change-makers in the Black community to drive culture and give back to their communities.

rachel ferdinando

The Drum speaks to Frito-Lay CMO Rachel Ferdinando

Can you give us a brief history of your career to date?

Throughout my career, I’ve focused on blending my creative side with my scientific side. With a degree in chemistry, I was in consumer healthcare for the first 19 years of my career, where I was able to work across many diverse categories from digestive health to beverages. I then ran a business for GSK in Malaysia for three years where I fell in love with business and marketing. As a scientist, you always want to explore root causes, which is an innate curiosity that I bring to my role as Frito-Lay CMO. As CMOs go, I’m unique in my approach to uncovering customer insights and leveraging that knowledge to create value for Frito-Lay’s stakeholders. And, with my team, I’m able to take the consumer-centric philosophy that I learned early on in my career to where I am now, leading our portfolio of iconic snack brands.

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What career moment are you most proud of?

The career moment I’m most proud of is the current moment we’re in as we continue to navigate the pandemic and address the many shifts in consumer behavior. Throughout the challenges, I’m proud that Frito-Lay has continued to be an industry pacesetter: in innovation, shaping culture and driving evolution around purpose and growth.

We’re currently witnessing an evolution of joy. In our category, we take pride in creating joy in occasions and consumers’ daily lives. But the power of joy goes beyond the bite, and that’s proving to be more important today than ever before. We need to show up in our communities, lead innovation throughout our supply chain in a way that’s beneficial to our planet and exceed consumer expectations when it comes to choice. It’s our job to change the ways we’re working to ensure that our practices are ethical and sustainable, to provide the joy at the core of our brand to our customers.

What’s a piece of work you’re particularly proud of?

Our team recently took Flamin’ Hot Cheetos from a favorite flavor to a strong standalone brand with its first-ever national brand campaign leaning into the cultural context of gen-Z superfans to scale the brand without ‘selling out.’

We teamed up with Megan Thee Stallion, legendary producer Mike Dean, and record label 300 Entertainment to create Megan’s commercially-released song Flamin’ Hottie. A partnership with Snapchat further elevated the song’s newly-cemented spot in pop culture with a first-of-its-kind augmented reality (AR) experience. This work with Megan garnered unprecedented attention, generating over 4bn earned media impressions across relevant gen Z publications.

This campaign is a standout example of our team’s innovative spirit to create a cultural moment that impactfully engages consumers to grow a beloved brand.

Best advice you’ve ever received?

Bring your authentic self to everything you do.

What are your views on the importance of awards?

Awards are an important milestone to champion moments of creativity and innovation within our industry. When building brands, you need to be provocative, disruptive, innovative and always guided by purpose. Awards are an opportunity to study best practices, celebrate transformative wins and spark creative thinking for whatever is next. Our Frito-Lay team deserves every accolade they’ve received, and we are committed to being at the forefront of innovation in our category and marketing in total.

If you could fix one problem in the marketing industry, what would it be?

I want to see more marketers living within the cultural context of their consumers. The ability to shape and create culture is vital for any brand. There’s culture in everything – family, friendship, business, brands. At Frito-Lay, we spend a lot of time understanding what is culturally happening for our consumers and showing up in a way that pushes our purpose forward and creates impact. Whether it’s supporting female entrepreneurs, amplifying Black voices or using our strength to create platforms for others, we’re able to successfully tackle these opportunities due to our time spent on understanding cultural contexts.

Where do you turn for inspiration?

I’m very inspired by people who are in my field. I’m inspired by people such as psychologists who are going deeper to understand why we do things, how the world is changing and what needs to happen in the future. I spend a lot of time in that space where I watch TED Talks to help me understand life a little bit better and what makes us tick.

And how do you switch off/maintain a work-life balance?

It’s tough sometimes, but I work hard to set personal boundaries around when I am on and when I’m off. That helps to ensure I can put my best energy into every moment and be fully present. I believe that’s truly essential to achieving a good balance between all of life’s demands.

Last week we met up with L’Oréal’s chief marketing and digital officer Lex Bradshaw-Zanger.

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