I experienced a “blast from the past” this fall when the name Mark Mears jumped out at me from a press release trumpeting a variety of ways in which Saladworks, the restaurant chain of which he is CMO, was raising money for the national nonprofit No Kid Hungry.
I first met Mark back in 2009 when the Cheesecake Factory, where he was then CMO, ran a Halo Award-winning campaign called The Drive Out Hunger Tour supporting Feeding America. Over his 30+ year career, Mark has also led marketing teams at Mimi’s Café, Schlotztky’s and Noodles & Company and at each stop along the way he has made cause-related initiatives a major part of the chains’ strategies.
I recently virtually sat down with this Kansas City-based restaurant industry expert to talk about the intersection of cause and commerce in his work:
Q: You’ve made cause-related campaigns a major part of your marketing mix at each company you’ve worked for since we first met over 10 years ago. Why?
A: All of us have a personal brand and mine has its own mission statement: “I don’t want to just make money and retire; I want to make a difference and inspire!” Making a difference in the lives of other people and inspiring them to do likewise creates a virtuous cycle of reciprocity where everyone benefits. I have chosen to work for brands whose mission is consistent with my personal brand, which always comes down to serving four key stakeholders — team members, guests, business partners and communities. Think of this model as a four-circle Venn diagram where each of these stakeholders overlap, but at the epicenter is the brand’s purpose.
At Saladworks our purpose is to “Fuel Originality” — not just provide a meal to sate an appetite, but to help others fuel their passions and live their best life. That is what gets me up in the morning and helps me overcome obstacles or challenges along the way. Working with some outstanding cause partners over the years has taught me the importance of leveraging the assets, equities and resources of the brands I serve to help others along their growth journey. I have found that when you follow your purpose, it creates a positive ripple effect that can not only help build a business enterprise, but literally change the world.
Q: Staff turnover is a huge challenge for the restaurant sector. What’s an example of a philanthropic program that helped you build stronger bonds with employees? How?
In addition to Personalization, Customization and Self-Expression, probably the number one characteristic of our Millennial target audience – including our restaurant-level team members who are of the same age and mindset – is Connection. Team members want to do more than merely pull shifts and get paid every other week, they want to feel connected to an organization or cause that is bigger than themselves.
Our Saladworks “Million Meals Challenge” – in partnership with No Kid Hungry – served as