The world of franchising is full of diverse industries and business models, each with unique challenges and opportunities. But the heart of each of them is the same – to create repeatable processes, systems and support to allow franchisees to be small business owners and provide a service to their local community.


My career path, which began with The Walt Disney Company and transitioned into the realm of franchising in 2014, has been a testament to the value of cross-industry experience and relationships. In my role with East Coast Wings + Grill (ECW+G), I have the privilege of applying insights I’ve learned in various brands and across different segments of business – consumer marketing, franchise development, mergers & acquisitions and more – to develop and create marketing strategies for the restaurant industry, a segment of franchising that is prevalent but on the newer side for me personally.


The Disney Influence: Customer Experience is Key

My stint at The Walt Disney Company ingrained in me the importance of customer experience and the brand. Disney’s unwavering commitment to creating magical moments taught me that every touchpoint matters. It’s been over 10 years since I worked for the Company and I still always point with two fingers or my whole hand when giving directions. Why? In some cultures, pointing with one finger is rude and that one simple gesture could ruin someone’s experience.


In the restaurant industry, this translates to ensuring that every customer interaction, from online ordering to in-store dining, is seamless and memorable. At ECW+G, we have amazing wings (I’d put them up against anyone else! Did I mention we won 1st place at the National Buffalo Wing Festival? Because we did.), burgers, salads, appetizers and more – but what are we REALLY selling? The experience. The moments that our guests have when they are around that table or interact with our team at a community event. That’s the real magic and why they come back time and time again.


Franchise Development, Operations & the Community: Building Strong Foundations

When I fell into franchising years ago, I quickly learned the importance of building strong foundations for growth. My experience working with franchise development and operations teams in various brands has been instrumental in my professional career – and in shaping our expansion strategies at ECW+G. Understanding the intricacies of franchise agreements, site selection and franchisee support has enabled us to continue to expand our footprint while maintaining brand consistency and – something that is very important to us – strong unit level economics.


For those looking to take their career to the next level, understanding how to work effectively with franchise development and operations teams is a gamechanger. Building trust and great relationships with your ops and fran dev counterparts (and don’t forget the franchisees!) is crucial to be able to work cohesively and avoid silos. This mentality equips you with the knowledge to support franchisees effectively, ensuring that marketing strategies and campaigns are not only creative but also operationally feasible. I don’t know everything – I constantly need to rely on the strengths of the rest of my team (including the franchisees) for me to learn and grow and be successful. Never forget that the franchisees are one of the most important parts of your team. They are the ones that are living the brand in the field each and every day…the best ideas come from the community!


Mergers & Acquisitions: Strategic Growth and Adaptability

Working with CEOs and private equity firms on mergers & acquisitions has greatly improved my strategic thinking and adaptability – skills that are crucial in the fast-paced restaurant industry (and any industry, for that matter). Whether acquiring new brands or integrating into larger entities, the ability to navigate complex transactions and align marketing strategies with broader business goals is invaluable.


At ECW+G, as we navigate our current organization growth strategy, we continuously explore strategic development opportunities, from partnerships to acquisitions. My background in M&A helps me provide value and perspective to the team when we are assessing potential ventures critically, ensuring that any new initiative aligns with our long-term vision and enhances our brand value.


Fractional CMO Roles: Versatility and Innovation

My experience as a fractional CMO across various industries, including youth enrichment, beauty concepts, QSR, home service and B2B services, has fostered my ability to be versatile and innovate. Each industry presents unique marketing challenges, and adapting strategies to diverse contexts has sharpened my problem-solving skills.


The basics are the same, but it’s how you learn the industry (from your team, going back to building strong foundations) and apply those basics in the right way that is key.


Transferable Skills and Best Practices

Marketing professionals considering a career shift can benefit from recognizing transferable skills and best practices from their previous roles. Here are a few key takeaways I’ve learned over the course of my career:


  • Customer-Centric Approach: Regardless of the industry, prioritizing the customer experience is paramount. Understanding customer needs and preferences can guide effective marketing strategies.
  • Data-Driven Decision Making: Leveraging data analytics to inform marketing decisions is crucial. From consumer behavior insights to campaign performance metrics, data drives results.
  • Strategic Thinking: In every aspect of the business, strategic thinking enables you to align marketing efforts with business objectives, driving sustainable growth.
  • Versatility and Adaptability: Embracing versatility allows you to navigate different industries seamlessly. Adaptability ensures you can respond to market changes and innovate accordingly.
  • Collaboration and Communication: Effective collaboration and communication with cross-functional teams, franchisees and stakeholders are essential for executing successful marketing campaigns.


My background has equipped me with a unique perspective and a versatile skill set that is helping to drive success at ECW+G. For anyone contemplating a career shift or even just trying to grow in their current role, embracing transferable skills and best practices from various industries can pave the way for a rewarding and impactful career.


By leveraging your own experiences and continually adapting to new challenges, you can create powerful marketing strategies that resonate with customers and drive business growth.


Ashley Mitchell has spent her entire career in marketing and communication roles. She has held several positions in which she was responsible for creating and driving marketing strategy, overseeing the growth of business through all aspects of consumer marketing and communication, contributing to overall strategic planning as part of company executive leadership teams and executing high-profile events, including roles with The Walt Disney Company and several franchises in various industries including youth enrichment, home services, beauty concepts, QSR and B2B services. Based on her experience, she understands the importance of protecting a highly revered brand while simultaneously translating the larger brand message to a regional and local level. Her experience spans consumer marketing, franchise development and mergers & acquisitions (both acquiring and being acquired by and working with private equity firms). 


Ashley has consistently been recognized as a leader in the franchise industry, most recently as a Top Franchise Influencer and Top 50 Franchise CMO Gamechanger.