Danielle Vona '97
Founder and Chief Strategist
The Marketing Posse, LLC
Q & A:
- What was your favorite class, who was your favorite professor, or what is your fondest memory of Hofstra?
My fondest memories at Hofstra were the shows. While I loved my professors and my classes, performing in plays/musicals was the highlight for me. The late rehearsals and long hours were lots of work, but also lots of fun. We became a family and the best of friends; there is nothing like the satisfaction of a standing ovation on closing night.
- What was your first job after graduating Hofstra, and what was the most valuable thing you learned there?
I had an unconventional "graduation." Since I put myself through college and worked at the same time, it was quite some time before I officially graduated. My first real job was with Tyree in Farmingdale (Tyree is a multidimensional petroleum services and environmental firm) and, technically, I had not graduated yet. I was a "floater," providing temporary support to a variety of departments. I did this because I was pursuing a music career, singing in bands, and teaching voice lessons. In hindsight, that experience was critical to my career. By working in a variety of departments like IT, Accounting, HR, and Engineering, I was exposed to the many facets of a business. When they offered me a full-time position, I found that a regular paycheck was quite appealing, and I started full time as a project assistant in the Engineering Department. Tyree holds fond memories for me: I learned so much from the people, I met my husband there, and I launched myself into the business world without knowing where it would take me next.
- What is your field of specialty, and how did you come to work in the industry?
It's an interesting story. My field of specialty is marketing, which certainly wasn't a straight path from my music degree. After meeting my future husband, Jeff, at Tyree on Long Island (where I was a part-time project assistant while pursuing my music career), we moved to Pennsylvania, and Jeff got a job as a civil engineer for Wendy's. I got a job as a construction assistant for The Franklin Mint. After I was promoted to manager and built over 40 retail stores for them, I started doing some marketing and merchandising for the new stores. I loved it and wanted to more aggressively pursue a career in marketing. I sent my resume to about 400 recruiters and ended up getting a job with TracyLocke, an agency with a long-term relationship with PepsiCo. I spent about three years at TracyLocke before ultimately getting recruited to work directly for PepsiCo, where I spent the next 10 years. TracyLocke launched my marketing career, and PepsiCo built my toolbox of experience.
- What advice would you give Hofstra students?
There are four key things I learned through the course of my career that I’d like to share with students embarking on theirs. They may not apply to everyone’s career, but they sure did shape mine:
- Be Great. So many ambitious young professionals are worried about how fast they are going to move up in the business world and what their next role or promotion will be. My experience has been … Be GREAT at your current role, and good things will come. Nothing will get you to your next role or promotion faster than being great at the job you are in right now. Create future demand for yourself by being GREAT now.
- Be Visible. Make sure the right people know about the great work you are doing. Volunteer to sit in on meetings and be a part of teams working on important initiatives. Be a team player in those situations so that your contributions to the meetings or the teams are valuable and recognized. Before you know it, you will be invited to everything.
- Be Yourself. Every role in your career is an opportunity for growth and development. Take advantage and learn from every situation and all leaders and peers you encounter; remember the difficult experiences are often more valuable than the easy or enjoyable ones. Use all that great learning and input to shape the kind of leader you want to be: Be YOU and be genuine.
- Enjoy the Journey. We are often so focused on planning what’s next that we miss the value of what’s happening right now. Phrases like, “The kids grew up so fast, I don’t know where the time went” or “stop and smell the roses” … they are classic examples of this mantra. I started saying this when I was a director at Pepsi, and it has held true for the last 20 years. Every role and every project is a journey. Don’t get so focused on the destination that you miss all the cool experiences you have along the way … they are the best part.
- In one word, how would you describe Hofstra?
- How has your music degree helped with your career in the field of business?
A performance degree has so many unexpected benefits in the business world. First, music and performance are creative and artistic. Although I am in business, being creative, innovative and open to trying new things is critical to successful marketing. I believe my performance background also helped train me to speak confidently in front of large audiences. Oh, and by the way, music is also built on a foundation of math (important to any business leader) … so, as I mentioned, there are many unexpected benefits and correlations.
- What made you decide to open your own consulting business?
The decision to start my own business was based on my family. I had moved my family a few times over the last few years for my work. They love where we live now, and everyone is doing so amazing. When I left my last role as GVP and CMO for Carrabba's Italian Grill, I had an opportunity to rethink what might be possible for the future. My goal was to take what I excel at and see if I could share that talent with multiple companies instead of just one … as well as share it with developing marketers who might benefit from my experiences. My business operates as more of a marketing services organization than as a consultancy, as it provides and develops talent and shares it with communities and organizations. It's been an exciting adventure so far, and I am optimistic about the future.
- How has networking helped in your career?
For me, networking has evolved so much from the actual activity to its level of importance; I cannot stress the importance of networking. Early in my career, I didn't network at all. That said, an enormous part of my current network is people I met or worked with during my time at Pepsi … and many of them have gone on to do other great things. When I went to Sonic, I didn't actively or consciously network, although by then I was engaging with LinkedIn and was keeping in touch with many of my Pepsi colleagues. I really felt the importance of networking when I left Sonic because it was the first time I was actively looking for a job. And although it was unintentional, I had been, throughout the years, amassing an amazing network. Now that I have launched The Marketing Posse, my network is a core source for my business. The people that know me and have worked with me are the ones most likely to hire my company's services. Currently, I am interim CMO for Clear Channel Outdoor. They are my first large client, and I was connected to them through someone in my network who worked for one of Pepsi's agencies.
Danielle Vona is founder and chief strategist for The Marketing Posse, an “outsourced marketing department” that provides strategic business planning and brand positioning, marketing solutions and talent development. Danielle was previously with Bloomin’ Brands as vice president and chief marketing officer for Carrabba’s Italian Grill, where she led the restaurant’s menu relaunch and all aspects of marketing and advertising. Before Carrabba’s, she served as vice president and chief marketing officer for Sonic Restaurants and was responsible for the brand positioning/strategy, product innovation, menu development, partnerships and communications for more than 3,500 Sonic locations. Prior to Sonic, she was a vice president with PepsiCo and held various marketing roles, including consumer marketing, package innovation and brand marketing.
In Danielle’s last role at PepsiCo, she was vice president of marketing for Propel water. She was in charge of growing what was the first national “enhanced” water. She also managed PepsiCo’s flavored soft drink portfolio with brands such as Sierra Mist and Mug Root Beer and launched new and innovative trademarks. Danielle has significant experience in package innovation, including the launch of the Pepsi Fridge Mate 12-pack. She also has retail channel experience and worked directly with customers like Wal-Mart, Costco, Kroger, Albertsons, Safeway, Ahold, Food Lion, A&P, SuperValu and Winn Dixie.
Danielle’s background is uniquely suited to bring big brand thinking to companies of all sizes. Her approach uses customer insights to develop strategic business plans filtered through a strong brand position. Danielle is a frequent speaker at national and local symposiums, and she has taught classes on marketing strategy and brand positioning.
Danielle is active in local community affairs and is on the board of the Tampa chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters. She lives in Clearwater, Florida, with her husband and three children.