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Global Chief Brand Officer Marisa Thalberg exits Taco Bell

Chain names two internal successors as it prepares for themed pop-up hotel

Marisa Thalberg, global chief brand officer at Taco Bell, has left the Irvine, Calif.-based chain after four years with the brand.

In a statement sent to Nation’s Restaurant News, Taco Bell North America President Julie Felss Masino did not provide a reason for Thalberg’s sudden departure. Her last day was Friday. She said Thalberg will remain an advisor to Yum Brands, the chain’s Louisville, Ky.-based parent company.

Masino recognized Thalberg for elevating the brand’s global profile by delivering fans buzzworthy experiences.

“Over the last four years, Marisa has helped lead record-breaking sales in a highly competitive category, all while transforming Taco Bell into a culture-centric lifestyle brand,” said Masino, a 2019 NRN Golden Chain winner.

Highlights of Thalberg’s Taco Bell career, where she was promoted twice, include creating a wedding venue at Taco Bell’s Las Vegas Cantina restaurant, producing Hollywood-inspired trailers to promote the brand’s record-breaking Nacho Fries and hosting a five-course test kitchen dinner event for superfans.

She leaves as Taco Bell is poised to throw its most ambitious marketing event to date: turning a Palm Springs, Calif. hotel into a Taco Bell-themed resort. Reservations for the four-night hotel experience, which starts Aug. 8, sold out in two minutes as the brand has promised fans a fully immersive Taco Bell experience complete with exclusive foods and merchandise.

“Her instinct for cultural relevance led to legendary moments that included a partnership with Forever 21, T-Mobile and, of course, The Bell Hotel,” Masino said. “As she sets her ambitions and energy toward pursuing her next significant leadership challenge, she will be a strategic advisor to Yum!. We wish her all the best and thank her for all that she has done.”

Taco Bell said Melissa Friebe, senior vice president of marketing and Tracee Larocca, senior vice president of advertising and brand engagement will now oversee marketing and brand engagement for Taco Bell.

“We are not currently planning a CMO search,” chain spokesman Rob Poetsch said.

Thalberg, a 2019 NRN Power List recipient, spent eight years at Estée Lauder before transitioning to Taco Bell in 2015. She was the company’s first chief brand engagement officer. In 2016, she became the company’s first-ever female CMO. Two years later, she was promoted to the role of global chief brand officer.

Switching from fashion to fast food was easy because Taco Bell is a lifestyle brand with a unique fan base, she told Fortune in a 2018 interview. “In some ways, we’re the fast fashion of food,” she said.

Thalberg is the founder of Executive Moms, an organization created in 2002 for women who are mothers and professionals. The group provides peer support and networking.

Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter: @fastfoodmaven

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