To describe the advertising industry as “dynamic” is akin to saying that sunflowers are yellow. The industry has been and always will be a field that’s ever-changing, evolving and expanding, and because of this it attracts many visionaries like Melissa Ralston, who feel right at home and thrive in a fast-moving and hyper-creative environment.

For Ralston, chief marketing officer of Tampa, Florida, supplier BIC Graphic North America—which will officially rebrand as Koozie Group on January 1, 2021—her roots in the advertising industry date back three generations. “My grandfather owned an advertising agency, where my father also worked, and later sold his shop to a big firm. So, I think it’s always been in my blood, but I’m really drawn to it as it melds together a lot of the fields I’ve always been interested in—writing, law, finance, psychology.” Ralston worked in public relations, communications and sales while attending the University of Florida, where she earned a bachelor’s in international advertising and a master’s in international business.

But years before working in the industry, Ralston’s earliest brush with promotional products was with t-shirts she’d collect every year from an annual Thanksgiving run in which her family participated together. This experience would come full-circle early on in her 20-year career when she was the marketing communications manager with Chris-Craft Corporation, a Sarasota, Florida-based powerboat manufacturer. There she was responsible for working with a promotional products distributor to purchase branded products for Chris-Craft boat-owners and fans to buy on the company website.

Ralston has been with BIC Graphic NA for more than 10 years, starting in product management and working her way up to vice president of marketing and her current position as CMO—and it’s one that’s been wrought with navigating change brought on by the recent pandemic and the company’s earlier decision to rebrand. Changing the name to Koozie Group is a move that, Ralston says, has been on the company’s radar since 2017, when BIC Consumer sold BIC Graphic NA to H.I.G. Capital. “More than just part of that sales agreement, it was clear we’ve evolved as a company, and the name should reflect our mission for the future,” she says. The company has operated under the BIC Graphic name since 1969 and has owned the Koozie® brand since 2009.

To decide on the name, BIC Graphic NA conducted internal surveys, focus groups with customers and employees, and consulted with third-party agencies, which resulted in a list of more than 800 names for consideration. The company choose Koozie Group because Koozie has been a flagship brand for BIC Graphic, “so including it in the company name was always in the mix,” she says. “The Koozie brand ethos aligns with our goal to provide useful solutions that evoke positive vibes and spark lasting memories. We included ‘Group’ for a few different reasons. First, we are a diverse team that values everyone’s contributions to best serve our customers and communities. In addition to our proprietary brands, we have great partnerships with strong retail brands, so distributors know that within our group they will find the best people, partners, products and processes to support their business.”

The name change isn’t the only major development on the company’s radar. The past few years have been full of change for the supplier, with a greater focus on enhancing customer experience and implementing technologies and processes to support that. An example of this, she says, is the company’s adjustment to using cloud-based CRM software Salesforce and Marketing Cloud to “provide seamless and more personalized experiences.” Over the past year, BIC Graphic NA has also been developing a social impact and sustainability commitment called Keep It Give It, a program that’s designed to leave a positive, lasting impact with the solutions and experiences they deliver, focused in four key areas: fostering delivery and inclusion, giving back to employees and community, safety and social responsibility and environmental stewardship. But along with these changes, Ralston also assures that the same extensive product selection will remain available with a focused effort on their environmental impact.

Looking to the future, Ralston feels that the landscape of marketing and advertising has forever changed. “The days of throwing a bunch of ideas out and hoping one sticks are over,” she says. “Now it’s all about personal relationships and connecting with customers on their terms. Luckily, our industry has always been driven by relationship-building and creativity, so I feel like it can easily be navigated.” She suggests being open to new ideas, staying up to date with technology and embracing the next generation of buyers will give companies an advantage as their marketing and advertising evolves. On moving forward in today’s environment, she references BIC Graphic NA’s internal company motto, “Do what you say you’re going to do and do it the right way.”

“This really works here in the sense that companies should be authentic—really understand your brand DNA, why you do what you do and what you stand for—and stay true to that,” she adds. “It’s also important to remember that regardless of all of the technology or automation in today’s world, there is still a human being on both sides who wants to do the right thing.”

Ralston lives in Tampa Bay, Florida, with her husband, two daughters and new puppy. Their favorite hobbies are boating and traveling (pre-COVID-19) and watching their daughters play softball and practice Tae Kwon Do.  


Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.