If anyone embodies the Domino's corporate cheer, all about selling more pizza and having more fun, it would seem to be Ramon De Leon, a prominent but unsanctioned ambassador for the company.
Having started 25 years ago as a delivery driver, De Leon now directs marketing for six franchises in Chicago. From this modest platform, with plenty of enthusiasm but no authorization to speak widely for Domino's as a brand, he has risen to prominence in the burgeoning profession of social media management.
He's a sought-after speaker in the marketing world, traveling to conferences around the globe. In June, the Chicago Social Media Marketing Group named De Leon, 44, Chicago Social Media Person of the Year.
He's not the only social media maven out there, of course. But his story shows what one guy can accomplish with a little technology and a knack for the voice of new media.
"I cannot make money selling pizzas for $1, but I can make money off the conversation it generates," he said, a reference to giveaway stunts that get people talking about Domino's on social media.
"(De Leon's) doing a lot of things right, and it's cool to see that," said David Armano, executive vice president of global innovation and integration at public relations firm Edelman in Chicago. "He's a great little case study."
But there are no cheers coming from Domino's headquarters. Domino's Pizza Inc. asked that De Leon remove its ticker symbol, DPZ, from his original Twitter handle. He now uses simply @Ramon_DeLeon. The company's response to inquiries about him is frosty.
"(De Leon) is a creative, colorful, energetic individual," said Tim McIntyre, vice president of communications for corporate Domino's. "He is not, however, an employee of Domino's Pizza Inc., and he does not represent the company or our global brand."
De Leon's boss is franchisee Jim Fisher, 58, who said that when it comes to social media, he trusts De Leon to do his own thing.
"I guess I'm old school," Fisher said. "There's stuff I don't know about. … For me, I love (De Leon's marketing) because it's one less thing I have to think about."
Fisher said revenue has improved each of the 18 years his Fisher Pizza Inc. has been in business in this competitive pizza town. He attributes much of his recent success to De Leon's marketing.
The results of online marketing are measured by metrics such as the number of video page views or tweets, sales and customer feedback through social media conversations. Armano said De Leon's approach covers all these bases.
"All of De Leon's content on the Web gets tracked by Google," Armano said. "That's typically things businesses would pay for. This way, it's free."
Armano said tracking social noise and sales is difficult, but positive word-of-mouth eventually leads to revenue.
"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know the reputation of your company directly impacts your shareholder value," he said.
De Leon's aggressive branding has ruffled feathers at corporate Domino's.
"We've gotten in trouble with people thinking we're Domino's Pizza Inc. or the face of Chicago," Fisher said. "Domino's thinks we're trying to be more than we are. We never did it to start with, but it was a perception. We're only six little stores. We don't handle Chicagoland."
De Leon was not as effective on the operations side of the business. In July 2010, Fisher said, he removed De Leon from his 10-year role as supervisor of his six stores. He gave him the title of marketing director for all six stores and general manager of the Canal Street location. Fisher said his decision came after his stores performed poorly on corporate Domino's unannounced semiannual evaluations.
Fisher said the stores were not equipped to handle a high volume of orders nor staffed with enough labor to maintain them.
Ramon De Leon, Chicago Social Media Person of the Year
Pizza guy who gets it whets appetites on the Internet
Chicago Social Media Person of the Year runs marketing for six Domino's stores in city, delivering a deep dish of online presence
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