Keira Krausz brought a resume of direct marketing turnarounds—and another success story—to Nutrisystem
When a ship is floundering, most people can be found jumping off and saving themselves. It takes a special person, someone who is brave, passionate and innovative, to come aboard and try to save it. Keira Krausz, now Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Nutrisystem, is that kind of individual; she savors helping companies like hers turn around their direct marketing business.
Krausz has taken risky jumps to companies that were struggling and riding pretty low in the water—Readers’ Digest Association (RDA) and Nutrisystem among them—and helped them to again become viable and profitable. At RDA, while running the direct marketing book publishing business, she was even able to help the business survive during one of our country’s greatest challenges.
“Direct marketing for our Books and Home Entertainment business had dropped by about 50 percent in the fall of 2001,” she said. “That was the year of 9/11 and anthrax, so almost nobody was opening the mail. It was an extremely unprofitable year.”
With Krausz’s leadership and marketing know-how, the business was back to profitability in a year. Not bad for someone who was originally steering toward an English degree and publishing career.
Turnaround Strategy No. 1: Assemble a Winning Team
Krausz may say that what she has done isn’t “rocket science,” but it does take a lot of brains, business acumen, passion, innovation and energy to achieve positive, successful turnaround results. Her first rule of business is to “assemble a team you both like and you know will get the job done.”
She quickly evaluated “who had what talents” amongst the Nutrisystem veterans, and made sure they were in roles where they could “excel and shine.” Krausz also saw the need for identifying a couple of “big-time change agents [to bring] in a fresh outlook and energy and passion,” who filled holes in the team (e.g., E-commerce and a Creative Director).
Turnaround Strategy No. 2: Have a Plan
Staying focused is another key to Krausz’s turnaround strategy. “At RDA, I did find that there were a million problems, and that every time you turned over a rock you would find more things you didn’t expect,” she said. “However, you can’t get overwhelmed.”
For Krausz, the antidote for not getting overwhelmed is focusing the team on one to three projects. In speaking to her work at Nutrisystem, she noted, “My goals were really, first and foremost, to work toward direct television practices and make sure the top of our sales funnel was more effective.” Once those goals were accomplished, her focus shifted to the e-commerce business and product innovation, “with a particular focus on getting the customer to really engage, so not just bringing the customer in, but focusing on that journey and how to engage that customer for a longer time.”
Staying focused on just a few changes at a time proved to be key. “We couldn’t have done all those things in the first year because then we would have been spread too thin [and] sloppy, and would have been ineffective.”
In the first semester of obtaining her MBA at Dartmouth College, after realizing she could combine her love and talent for words with that she had for numbers, Krausz learned a valuable skill that has helped her and her team stay focused: decision trees. With a strategic outline, her team has its next move planned well in advance of that to follow.
“I remember at one point, I had a decision tree that literally had plans A to F. It was funny, but I would know if something doesn’t go through, then we would do this. If the TV commercial doesn’t work, we will do that. We had everything mapped out, so depending on what happened we could still turn on a dime and keep going.”
Turnaround Strategy No. 3: Keep the Glass Half Full
Maintaining focus is a bit easier when it is smooth sailing, but what happens when a storm rocks the boat? It is essential, Krausz stressed, to remain optimistic.
“Turnaround can be hard and scary,” she acknowledged, “so from the top, meaning myself, we needed to stay positive at all times.”
In order to do that, the team has candid conversations. “As we moved toward our peak season, the marketing leadership team spoke a number of times about how we were going to handle ourselves if things didn’t go well,” Krausz said. “That we would not convey distress to the larger team, and we would use any disappointment as a way to learn, fix and go forward”
Turnaround Strategy No. 4: Celebrate Base Hits
Going hand in hand with keeping positive, Krausz makes sure her team stops to watch the sunset—in other words, celebrate the small successes.
“You always have some successes,” she said. “Sometimes they are small. You have to talk about some glimmers of hope without whitewashing. If they can see some glimmer of hope, they know they are on the right path and their efforts are worthwhile.”
When Krausz started with Nutrisystem, the numbers were dire for a few months. With their focus on television spots, she and the Creative Director needed to develop a new commercial within a two-week timeline.
“We weren’t necessarily happy about doing this, but we took parts of a commercial from years ago, basically cut it in the editing room, updated it and aired it,” Krausz recalled. And ultimately, they celebrated. “It wasn’t a home run; it was a single. It showed that when we had all the tools, we could win.”
Turnaround Strategy No. 5: The Burden of Proof
Last but not least, Krausz advises ensuring that everything is measurable. “We are a test-and-learn culture,” she said.
Krausz uses those measurements as proof of what is or isn’t working, and why. “We are really candid about what the numbers say,” she said. “If the numbers say we have a problem, we immediately solve the problem.”
The group has weekly meetings to discuss their “opportunities of the week,” where they sit down and analyze the numbers and evaluate how to improve—how to, Krausz said, “test, win, roll out and make improvements.”
Great Leadership Also Helps
Krausz’s turnaround strategies would almost certainly be less effective without her exceptional leadership practices. “I try to start each week by thinking of what I need to do as a leader,” she said. One of her greatest supporting assets is that she isn’t afraid to “roll up my sleeves and get down in that ditch and dig.”
Will Misloski, Senior Vice President (SVP) of E-commerce at Nutrisystem, agrees. “[Krausz] isn’t an empty suit,” he said. “She has the ability to dig into the weeds, ask questions, make highly relevant recommendations and even jump in to do the work herself.”
But, she also knows when to stand back. “I try to recognize what I am really good at and where I can add some value,” Krausz noted. “If not, I try to step back and let the team do its job.”
She also embodies passion, enthusiasm and compassion, as well as humor. “I do think that, if I am not funny, I do at least appreciate things that are funny,” she said. “I like laughter. Humor goes a long way in a turnaround situation.”
Swimming With Sharks
Nutrisystem, with the help of Krausz and her turnaround acumen, is not only staying afloat; they are cruising. Now that they are out of danger, one would think they would try to avoid sharks. One way the company has fun and fosters continued innovation and success, though, is by encouraging all individuals in the company to jump in the “shark tank.”
As with the popular ABC television show, “We try to do it two or three times a year—anyone can send in an idea,” Krausz said. The participants develop the idea, create a profit/loss statement, identify resources and meet with the people in Finance. “We [Krausz, the Chief Financial Officer, the Chief Executive Officer and SVP of Supply Chain and Retail] are the sharks, though I think we are nicer than the sharks on television.” The sharks pick 10 ideas, and those behind them present in front of the whole company. “We choose a winner. Everyone who got to present gets a small reward for their hard work and creativity.”
Bill MacBride, SVP of Customer Care, agrees that it is a morale booster. “It’s helped foster more innovative thinking across the organization and encouraged involvement at all levels of the organization,” he said. “I usually have to try not to cry because I am so inspired. We have some very out-of-the-box thinking and some very implementable ideas that really show a lot of passion and understanding of the business.”
Krausz’s record of effective and profitable turnarounds speaks for itself. She has a lot of guts and determination, and just the right skill set to dive into a tough situation and help right the ship.
Jill Yarberry-Laybourn is a freelance writer based in Colorado.