2021 Women in Print and Promo: Melissa Ralston, Koozie Group
Chief Revenue Officer
Koozie Group, Clearwater, Fla.
If you know promo, you know the weight of the BIC Graphic name. But after 50 years, the organization retired the name in favor of Koozie Group, which officially took effect on Jan. 1. It was a bold move, though the supplier felt Koozie—another recognizable brand name and part of BIC’s product offering since 2009—better reflected its evolving vision and mission.
Part of the rebranding efforts involved thoughtfully surveying customers, vendors and employees for their ideas and opinions. Melissa Ralston, who then served as chief marketing officer, oversaw these efforts. With an understanding of BIC’s influence, she treated the process with respect, workshopping options with her team before presenting final selections to the board of directors. According to her nominator, she led a multimedia name change marketing campaign, including video, digital marketing, social advertising, print advertising and direct mail. Staying in line with the Koozie Group’s tagline, “Keep the Good Going,” Ralston is also executive sponsor of the company’s “Keep It. Give It.” social impact and sustainability task force and spearheaded the program’s launch.
When done right, the message behind a promo campaign holds unique appeal. Some professionals intuitively know how to connect, and Ralston is one of them. It starts with how she relates to her team. “[Melissa’s] ability to give guidance or encourage autonomy based on different personalities is evidence of her desire to see everyone succeed,” her nominator said. “[She] has a pulse on what is happening in all areas of our business and helps her team design marketing strategies meant to capitalize on our strengths and stand out in the promo industry and the communities in which our facilities operate.”
Ralston is more modest and credits her time at Chris-Craft, a powerboat manufacturer, for teaching her the value behind the products. “It was a great introduction to the industry and an interesting way to see firsthand how promos connect fans with the brands they love,” she said of her marketing communications manager role.
From there, Ralston joined BIC Graphic as a product manager, and has held various marketing positions over the last decade prior to her promotion in March. She is responsible for the Koozie Group sales organization, along with the marketing and communications teams for both Koozie Group and IMAGEN Brands (acquired in 2020). She is excited to continue to do what she does best—further develop those relationships and expand the brands’ potential for revenue growth and their distributors.
What Brings Her Joy Professionally and Personally
Working in promo, we have the unique opportunity to help make other people’s dreams come true. The promotional products we supply help businesses and organizations get their name and messaging out there to build their audience and accomplish their goals. It feels good to be a part of building so many other brands.
Her Proudest Career Achievement
I’m most proud of the people and teams I’ve been able to work with because they continue to surprise me with their creativity and dedication. One of my favorite projects to be a part of was Koozie Group’s Social Impact & Sustainability task force. It was exciting and inspiring to work cross-functionally to discover what we are already doing in these areas and to develop goals for the future.
On Working in a Traditionally Male-Dominated Industry
At Koozie Group, and also when we operated as BIC Graphic, I’ve always been lucky to work with a strong group of women in an open culture that valued perspectives of every team member. In fact, we were listed as a Mogul Top Company with the strongest female leadership and equal ratios within our workforce. This kind of welcoming atmosphere led a group of employees to create a Diversity & Inclusion Council so we can expand on this idea and make sure all backgrounds and perspectives are present in everything we do as Koozie Group.
Her Job Advice to Women
This is a creative industry, so it’s a fun place to build a career where your ideas can be true game changers for both your company and your customers. The promotional products community is close-knit, supportive and will encourage you to go outside your comfort zone, so there are plenty of opportunities to take your business and your career to the next level.
Who Inspires Her
My mom continues to inspire me as she was always able to delicately balance everything in life while leaving no one feeling shortchanged—a wife, a mom, a businesswoman: raising three daughters, and being fully present in all family activities and milestones, while also having an amazing work ethic, which allowed her to grow into a motivating and challenging leader who still mentors her former employees today (she is now happily retired).
How She Motivates Team Members
My teams meet regularly to share current challenges and set [and] review clear goals. Having clearly communicated goals keeps everyone focused on what they need to accomplish to make sure the team is successful. We prioritize sharing positive feedback, both from the top down and between colleagues to encourage teamwork. Koozie Group also provides opportunities for leadership training and career development because we genuinely care about our employees and want them to know they are valued.
What She Learned About Herself in 2020
Like so many people, I can get caught up in work and making future plans, especially as a marketer because we strategize months in advance. With the fast pace of change and overall uncertainty we experienced in 2020, I’ve learned to appreciate the present moment more, both at work and in my personal life.
Her Upcoming Goals
Professionally, I’d like to get in front of more customers to foster stronger relationships. We have a lot of new and exciting enhancements at Koozie Group that I can’t wait to share with our distributors. Personally, I would like to travel back to Europe and read more than I have been.
What She Wants People to Know About Her
Promo is in my blood! My grandfather owned an advertising agency where my father also worked, and eventually sold his shop to a big firm. I love that every day brings something different, and it’s fun and creative.
How She Recharges
The best way for me to recharge is to do something fun with my family. We enjoy boating, traveling and spending time with our puppy.
What She’s Reading and Watching
The most recent book I finished was the Elon Musk biography by Ashlee Vance. I’ve also been laughing a lot watching Schitt’s Creek.
Elise Hacking Carr is editor-in-chief/content director for Print+Promo magazine.