There’s an old public relations axiom that promises “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

 

After running a consumer technology public relations firm for nearly two decades, I can tell you from personal experience that isn’t always true. If the media and other key influencers start bad-mouthing your product, you’re sunk. Fortunately for Carlos Ramirez Zavarce, CEO and Co-founder of Powerful Yogurt, he received a lot of the good kind of bad publicity.

 

 

Born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, Carlos came to the U.S. at age 27 to pursue an MBA at the University of California Berkeley. He planned to return after graduating in 2004. But when the urban violence that had earned Caracas the designation as the world’s most violent city hit close to home, he changed his mind.

 

“I called my mother at 2 p.m. in the afternoon, and she told me there was a shooting right in front of our house,” he says. “I thought ‘that’s it, I’m staying in the U.S.’”

 

Carlos went to work for the Zyman Group, a management consulting firm that specializes in marketing strategy and profitable growth acceleration founded by Sergio Zyman, the former Chief Marketing Officer for Coca Cola and author of the best-selling book “The End of Marketing As We Know It.” A few years later, Alpina Foods, a South American-based producer of more than 500 consumer products, including yogurts, hired Carlos to lead the company’s entry into the U.S.

 

Carlos recognized that more Americans, particularly men, were trying to figure out ways to add protein to their diets. But that often meant walking through the aisles of supplements retailer trying to decipher complicated formulas on huge tubs of powdered proteins.

 

That’s when the proverbial light bulb went off over his head: produce a line of protein-infused yogurt for men.

 

“Yogurt is perfect – it’s simple, natural, great-tasting, and people like it,” he says. “It’s the opposite of the powders you find at a GNC store.”

 

Trouble is, big players like Dannon and Yoplait dominate the yogurt market, and devote their marketing dollars to selling their products to women.

 

Carlos saw those challenges as opportunities.

 

“I figured if I could steal just 1% of the market, I would succeed,” Carlos recalls. “Our research showed that four-out-of-10 men consumed yogurt, so we actually identified a market that was wide open.”

 

In 2012, after convincing a New York City-based distributor of that opportunity, Carlos raised the capital he needed to begin producing, packaging and shipping Powerful Yogurt. He needed to find retailers willing to stock their shelves with his packages shaped like the torso of a man who does lots of crunches.

 

He launched a marketing campaign with the tagline “Find your inner abs” targeting men who wanted more protein and had active lifestyles (or had made New Year’s resolutions to that effect). The campaign generated a lot of media attention, but not all of it was positive.

 

During an interview with Esquire magazine, the reporter warned Carlos of appearing to be sexist. A snarky GrubStreet.com article referred to the product as “Brogurt,” and concluded with the statement, “Ladies, be careful out there! This yogurt isn’t for you!”

 

Carlos says that criticism may have played a role in setting what could be a record for the shortest-ever business meeting when he walked into the office of a buyer for New York City-area Whole Foods stores.

 

“She said ‘Oh, this is the yogurt for men? It’s not going to happen,’ and the meeting was over,” he says, laughing.

 

Yet, other media outlets and personalities, including NBC’s The Today Show and late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien, had some fun with the concept, and painted Powerful Yogurt in a positive light. Carlos said the combination of praise and criticism over the marketing campaign drove consumer awareness and sales.

 

The big break came when Walmart called out of the blue. Carlos says the retail king was very focused on data.

 

“Walmart buyers have data, they live and breathe data, and that made them much different than buyers we met with who let their emotions color their decisions,” he says. “We started with a trial of 60 stores, and the sales numbers drove Walmart to place us in 120 stores, then 300 stores, and today, we’re in 2,000 stores.”

 

Today, you can find Powerful Yogurt-brand yogurts, bars, drinks and oatmeal in more than 10,000 stores nationwide, including Target, Kroger, Stop and Shop, Giant, and several independent retailers.

 

Oh, and Whole Foods too.

 

When I interviewed Carlos for the latest edition of my “Unconventional Genius” podcast, he made it all sound so easy. Like coming up with a great idea, a unique and controversial marketing campaign, finding the right manufacturing, packaging and distribution partners, and negotiating with buyers in the cutthroat groceries sector was not big deal.

 

When I relayed that to him, he actually laughed out loud. Then, he said something I’ve heard time and again from successful entrepreneurs: He not only had to ignore the doubters and naysayers, he had to overcome his own fears and worries. Upon reflection, he was too busy trying to succeed to worry about failing.

 

“Looking back at the last five years, I know there were plenty of times when if I let myself think about the incredibly long odds of achieving this success, I probably wouldn’t have even tried it.”

 

Max Borges is the host of the Unconventional Genius Podcast and the founder and CEO of Max Borges Agency – a PR firm that works exclusively with consumer tech companies. To learn more, check out: www.maxborgesagency.com.