Chris Walker is VP of Marketing at the American Kennel Club, America’s largest dog club organization, founded in Philadelphia in 1884. Chris is a pioneer in social media marketing for brands and has had an interesting and phenomanally successful career to date. He spoke with IrishCentral about his current role with AKC, some of the challenges brands face on social media as well as offering some advice for people starting out in their careers.
How long have you been in the US?
I arrived in the Summer of 2007 and started work with Sony Music a few weeks later. I was able to leverage the 1 year program of continued education in your field and I had just completed my degree in "Marketing and Music Business" so jumping into the record label world was a perfect fit for me.
How did you end up in digital media?
I'm a nerd, just a nerd who had a father who came from big-time marketing and advertising. So it was a combination of being a geek and having the pedigree I guess. Loving music also allowed me to get very into MySpace and other social platforms, in the early days and was able to study the best practices and apply that to allow artists to be successful on the platform. I came at it from a different angle - I always looked at it from the consumer side and what did the consumer want from digital media as opposed to what did we want to show the consumer - it allowed me to think like one of my Irish mentors, Shane Lennon, and was following his customer centric model without knowing it. It allowed me to form a niche very quickly. I think that is important, be a specialist in your field and use that as an opportunity to refine your skills and develop an understanding of all aspects of your industry.
Career highlight to date?
Wow, quite a few, Sony obviously had some great moments, helping great stars come to light and the success we had in the urban genre around 2008/9 was amazing. We had Usher, T-Pain, Chris Brown, R. Kelly - we were all walking on sunshine and they were on top of the world. Personally for me I loved UGK and working with Bun B and Pimp C - two phenomenal talents having had so much success in their careers but having never had a #1 album, to have worked on their first #1 album was a source of great pride for me. Business wise, 2012 was some year, being part of a year of over 100% revenue growth was incredible and helping an emerging company build their inbound marketing and lead system was special. But AKC has been great, its my first time in the big seat and building something for the future in terms of communications, marketing and product is a challenge and I'm just really enjoying it. I came in with all my challenges in the millions - millions of fans, millions engaged and bring millions of dollars and to have delivered 2 of 3 in the first months, with the road-map for the third hitting its micro-goals shows that the future is bright. I think its refreshing that a major brand will trust someone in their 20s to lead this kind of initiative and I hope it starts a new trend of companies employing what I term the "strategic executor" - someone that can plan and also execute upon the plans. Also, I think its the first time I feel settled and see myself there for the long-term and I'm over the moon with the success of our customer acquisition strategy and the products we are rolling out at the end of this year will be game changers. Honestly, I have always had my career based on revenue quotas and have been blessed to have had strong teams that have always broke our revenue quotas everywhere I have been. I think thats the real highlight, that I'm fortunate to have had Fortune 200, startups and established brands have the faith in me to ask for revenue and have been blessed enough to have always beaten my numbers.
Challenges facing you in your current role?
Digital Transformation - thats major and always a tricky one. We are really having to overhaul many pieces and you never get a clean build when you have substantial revenue coming in but you know revisions need to be made more if you want to grow significantly. You have to have that success on the fly so that is a dilemma you need to solve early. Managing teams in 2 locations is always a struggle and I think shifting to a proactive stance is challenging when you have been used to reacting. We have owned the dog space for a long time and are a very successful company but the board and management have laid down the goal to take a $60M company to a $250M in 5 years. What a challenge, but one we embrace fully and feel very positive about.
What are your plans for AKC in 2014/2015?
Customer acquisition, we want to grow our audience significantly and we grew by 60% in 2013. We want to keep going as we want to have the largest database of dog owners in the world. Thats the marketable audience for everything we do. We also want to start to launch new products that improve the relationship between a dog owner and their dog. We have some great pieces in development and have launched two MVP products in Good-Dog Helpline and Reggie Box that are doing well at market currently. Also, growing WOOFipedia will be key, it is fast becoming the #1 consumer site for all dog owners and doubling its audience month over month.
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