#5QsforCMOs: Russell Schleiden – CMO of KT Tape

In our #5QsForCMOs blog series, AgencySparks conducts short, informative interviews with CMOs and senior-level marketers to uncover insights about their brand, and to help us better understand their thought process as a marketing leader.

KT Tape is the leading producer of kinesiology tape and related sports medicine products in the retail market, providing pain relief solutions and support for hundreds of sports-related injuries. Used by athletic professionals, Olympians, and everyday athletes, KT Tape products are sold in more than 35,000 retail locations in the U.S. and in 70 countries worldwide.

Russell Schleiden joined Lindon, Utah-based KT Tape as CMO in January 2016.

1.  What career experience has best prepared you to become CMO of KT Tape?

I don't know that there's any one thing. It's a life-long career in marketing that's prepared me for this. I was at Kraft Foods in Chicago for four years, and that was a tremendous training ground for learning about marketing and business. I then went to Miller Brewing Company, and was a Senior Brand Manager for Miller Genuine Draft, Molson, and other beer brands. We sponsored the NBA, the NHL, NASCAR, and other major sports.

2.  What has been your number one marketing priority at KT Tape this year?

Now at KT Tape, our number one initiative is being the official license of Team USA and USOC, and we're sponsoring a lot of Olympic and Paralympic athletes. We're partnering with Kerri Walsh Jennings (three-time Olympic volleyball gold medalist) and we sponsor Meb Keflezighi, the winner of the 2014 Boston Marathon and the 2009 New York City Marathon, and a 2004 Olympic marathon silver medalist. I'm actually going to Colorado Springs tomorrow to work with the USOC for the next few days. We also have fully integrated sponsorships with the national governing bodies for wrestling, cycling, triathlons, rugby, men's and women's gymnastics, and other individual sports within the Olympics. The number one priority with KT Tape is to build awareness for our tape with Olympic sports and athletes by leveraging social media, PR, and mainstream media, mostly through earned media, to build awareness, while also leveraging the endorsements of our athletes.

3.  What are KT Tape's biggest marketing strengths and weakness?

I think what's going great is that we've signed a partnership this year with Meb, and have ongoing partnerships with James Harden (NBA, Houston Rockets) and Kerri (Walsh Jennings) –– those athletes have been incredibly powerful spokespeople for the brand. Kerri has been using our product since her first Olympics. She's very passionately committed to the brand, and wears it during training. We did a media tour with Meb Keflezighi, in New York a few weeks ago, and he's also been a very passionate user of the brand since 2008. We have this long list of world-class athletes that love our product, talk about our product, and use our product, and it's the most powerful thing we have right now.

As far as weaknesses go, in a sense, you almost have to think of us as a startup. We're still just learning and growing the organization and the team from a marketing standpoint, and we have to work within a limited resources environment from a manpower and a dollar standpoint. It's not so much a weakness, as it is a challenge. And it's not that we're trying to compete with the major companies that are out there, but we're trying to build this brand, so the challenge is how fast and how much we can grow given our limited resources.

4.  Which marketing disciplines at KT Tape do you feel are better managed in-house, and what disciplines do you feel comfortable outsourcing?

We do all of our strategic planning, brand positioning, and business plan writing internally, but we have definitely outsourced some of our research – we have a consultant for that. We've outsourced it because it's not an expertise we have in-house. We've also outsourced our PR to an agency called Taylor, and we're having them manage our social media and digital marketing right now. I think (social and digital) can be done very well in-house or outsourced, but for us, from a cost and expertise standpoint, and at this stage, it's easier for us to outsource. We have an awesome internal graphic design team, and the bulk of the work they do is for our basic, everyday business design, packaging design, and a lot of our POS and merchandising design. They also do creative work for our social content, which we work on collaboratively with Taylor. Sometimes we'll hire an agency and outsource certain work like an ad campaign, or sometimes we just don't have the resources to meet the demand, and as we have overflow of demand, we'll outsource.

Right now, we don't do TV, radio, and outdoor ads, and for most of my career, that's something we'd outsource to an agency, like when I was with Kraft, or Miller Brewing, or Dr. Pepper. There were usually some big creative needs for TV, radio, outdoor, and print. We don't do a lot of traditional CPG promotional work, for the most part because I think it can sometimes be a waste of time and money. We're trying to build brand equity and awareness, and those types of tactical month-to-month promotions aren't a great use of our resources – it almost undermines our position as a premium brand. We're the highest priced tape on the market, so we try to build brand equity through athlete and Olympic endorsements.

I've always believed that agencies might say they do everything, but they're rarely great at everything. I'd agree with (AgencySparks) on that point, unquestionably. Just because they have it listed as a capability doesn't mean they're great at it –– they have some areas of expertise that are better than others. I've almost always found agencies the old-fashioned way: networking with peers who know people in the creative industry.

5.  Do you have an interesting or quirky anecdote about yourself that you'd like to share?

Well, I have a lot of funny stories, but the first thing I always tell people is that, in a previous life, I was a Captain in the Army for 10 years, and I was a helicopter pilot in the U.S. and when I lived in Germany, so that's something that is inspirational, and something I'm proud of, and at the same time, it was a lot of fun!