July Consultant of the Month
Kristine Duffy has deep experience in CPG, working with brands at Nestlé, Dreyer’s, and Del Monte. She has a special interest in pet food marketing. She made the leap to consulting when faced with balancing the demands of being a mom and working full time, and has found success and sustainability consulting for product innovation teams.
What type of work do you do? What are you currently working on?
Kristine's Keys to Success
- Deep domain expertise
- Building a network of consulting friends
- Long-term experience with one company
- Focusing on innovation roles
- Proactive outreach to marketing leaders
I've been in consumer packaged goods marketing most of my career, starting with brand manager roles at Nestle and Dreyer's. Currently, I'm working on Del Monte’s innovation team, developing a new beverage.
In brand management, you're the hub of the wheel, running a project from soup to nuts. In the early stages, we develop concepts, positioning and the product opportunity. Then we do focus groups and research to bring the value proposition to life. It can evolve into product development, graphics, and P&L management. It's very creative and fun. I enjoy the diversity and that keeps me from getting bored in my job.
Why did you decide to become a consultant? What has been your path to success?
I studied international marketing in business school at Thunderbird. Initially, I had aspirations of working and living abroad. Early in my career, one of the things that attracted me to Nestlé was the global nature of the company and the fact they send their leaders to developmental positions at their headquarters in Switzerland.
After taking off a couple years when my kids were young, I wondered how to balance being a mom and working full time. I decided to start consulting when my second child was two. She’s now 18, so I've been consulting for 16 years.
I've been with Del Monte for about 10 years. During that time, they've gone through many transitions. I’ve found success working in product innovation. It lends itself well to consulting projects because the work ebbs and flows. Companies may focus on top line growth and innovation, but other times, they focus on the bottom line and innovation gets cut. Savvy leaders keep their innovation teams small, so they don't have to hire and fire. Filling gaps with consultants or agencies helps.
"Management turmoil and change are good for consultants. When there is a lot of turnover, consultants can help fill gaps and manage projects without any long term staffing commitment."
I've been lucky to have had very few gaps between projects. Over the years, I've developed relationships with management, so when they need to fill gaps, help with strategic projects or are under-resourced, they reach out to me. Because of my longevity with Del Monte, I have deep knowledge in all their business and systems allowing me to get things done quickly and efficiently. I can manage a business for two to three months with little guidance. Management turmoil and change are good for consultants. When there is a lot of turnover, consultants can help fill gaps and manage projects without any long term staffing commitment.
What was your favorite project to work on or work you are most proud of? Why?
I am very passionate about pets. I've always had dogs and cats. Pet food is very interesting because the buyer does not actually eat the product. It's all about the marketing. You have so much flexibility to create products and packaging. As the brand manager for Mighty Dog, I had fun working on packaging, photo shoots, and advertising with little dogs and their trainers.
Another project that stands out was a new product called Meow Mix Tender Centers, a dual-textured cat kibble. It was a long project and a very successful one. We were even awarded Nielsen’s Innovation Breakthrough Award. In terms of sales, it was one of the most successful line extensions that they've launched on the brand.
What do you love about consulting?
I really enjoy the project work, but I don't enjoy managing people or managing politics. That's what your job becomes at higher levels and it demands more hours. Consulting allows me to focus on the work itself and gives me the flexibility to have control over my hours. I have been able to work under 30 hours a week, so I have more time for my family.
What has been your biggest challenge about being a consultant? How have you addressed it?
It's not knowing when your job is going to end, and if you're going to have any additional work. Right now, I’m filling in for a maternity leave which ends in July. Do I start looking for a new project, or is it likely that Del Monte will have another opportunity if I wait?
For many consultant moms, they have a significant other that's the primary breadwinner. My husband's a teacher, so I'm the primary breadwinner and it puts more pressure on me to have a consistent income. I don't have that flexibility of not working for a month. Luckily, I’ve been at the right place at the right time and usually another project comes around in time.
How do you market yourself?
Mostly through word of mouth and tapping into my network of consulting friends. Many places I’ve worked have had other consultants -- women in similar situations as me, who have kids and want balance, have worked in brand management, or have similar backgrounds. A lot of us have stayed friends and helped each other out.
Once, after I’d been working in pet food for a long time and was looking for consulting jobs, I looked up the VP of Marketing at Central Garden and Pet on LinkedIn. I emailed my resume and asked if they needed any consulting help. I followed up and it turned out he could use my expertise.
What are things you like to do when the work slows down?
I've been busy with my kids’ activities, but I'm almost an empty nester. I have a son who just finished his junior year at University of Oregon. My daughter is graduating and she'll be going to NYU, fingers crossed, in the fall. I also enjoy traveling as much as possible. I used to be a runner, but now I like to hike. I love spending time with my pets — we have a yellow lab and have been fostering a cat and her four kittens during COVID because we're stuck at home. Our home in Pleasant Hill has a large backyard, and I spend a lot of time gardening and weeding.
What’s one tip you would give to new consultants?
Consulting is all about relationships, because most jobs are word of mouth. It’s developing good rapport with the people you work with, then making sure to reach out to past managers, especially when you're looking for a job. Let people know you're available and continually network with the people that you've built relationships with.
Consulting jobs aren't always published and sometimes managers don't even know that they need you. Don't go through HR or even lower level marketing people because they’re not the ones making decisions. Don’t be afraid to go straight to the head of marketing. By reaching out and with a bit of effort, you can create jobs for yourself.