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From Cracker Barrel To Gucci Apparel

Want to grow your own Social Media Director in-house? Continuing our conversation with BOOM!’s Social Media Director, Laura Palladino, she tells us all about how she discovered her passion for digital marketing. We’ll discuss what she was doing before she met Ezra Firestone, how she came to work for him, and how he provided a safe learning environment for her to grow into her new role. You’ll also learn how she furthered her education in social media, the advice she’d give to her younger self, and how the ICOSA Framework helped define her approach to marketing. To hear the first part of this conversation, go back and listen to episode 45.
You’ll Learn:

  • Which marketing conference had a BIG impact on Laura
  • How Ezra’s leadership helped cultivate Laura’s growth
  • What the day-to-day of a Social Media Director looks like
  • How Laura balances her position at BOOM! with being a small business owner

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0:34 What do a Zumba instructor, a pastry chef, and a restaurant server have in common?

1:43 The day Laura met Ezra Firestone.

4:07 Here’s what it takes to start a career in social marketing…

6:21 Customer Service — Some things can only be learned in the service of others.

8:11 What role did Ezra play in Laura’s growth? We discuss…

10:45 The great balancing act of working for others while working for yourself.

14:42 What advice would Laura give her younger self?

17:08 To swipe Laura’s ICOSA Social Framework, get Laura’s daily schedule, and watch a bonus video training, go to

17:56 Thanks for listening! To share your feedback or get a question answered on the podcast, follow and message Molly on Instagram at @mollypittmandigital.

Transcript Of Episode 46

0:00 Laura: I have no background in marketing, zero. The only marketing I have is marketing our Country Fried Chicken at Cracker Barrel. You know what I mean?

Molly: And that sells itself!

Laura: Yeah, exactly, yeah. I didn’t have to do too much work to sell you some biscuits and gravy. So I started learning all this stuff. I went to Social Media Marketing World. I read a bunch of books. And here I am, five years later, now the social media director for BOOM!.

0:34 Molly: Hello, and welcome to Episode 46 of “The Smart Marketer Podcast.” I am Molly Pittman. And we are back to continue the conversation from Episode 45 with the marketing director from BOOM by Cindy Joseph, our friend, Laura Palladino. I’ve always been inspired by Laura’s story and her journey to get to where she is now. Before she was the marketing director at BOOM, she was a Zumba instructor, a pastry chef, an insurance agent. She worked at Cracker Barrel. She’s tried it all. And she really found her way here in the digital marketing world.

So in the last episode, we covered the I.C.O.S.A. Framework that we used to craft our social and content marketing strategies. And in this episode, we are going to continue the conversation and get a bit more personal with Laura. So if you haven’t had a chance to listen to Episode 45, go ahead, hop back, get caught up on the I.C.O.S.A. Framework. And now, let’s dive in to Episode 46.

1:43 Hey, y’all. Welcome back to “The Smart Marketer Podcast.” Today. We have a very special guest, one of our own, Laura Palladino. We also have John here. How’s it going, John?
John: It is going great. I am so excited about today’s session. I think you’re one of the OG smart marketer educators actually, preceding Molly and I.

Laura: I was employee number 11 at Smart Marketer.

Molly: Wow. So let’s start a little bit with your story because it’s inspirational.

Laura: Yeah, so it’s actually super funny, my story, and interesting. So my husband and I opened a jiu-jitsu gym in upstate New York, want to say now, seven years ago. And Ezra Firestone moved to a town over. And he came in, he had trained jiu-jitsu for a while, found us, came in, and we all became close friends.
And at the time, BOOM was very small. So I think they had like Boris was Betty on customer service. Like they still were very bones team there. And he asked me… At the time I was working at Cracker Barrel, I was a server at Cracker Barrel. I think I just hit my five-year mark at Cracker Barrel, which was terrifying. But he asked a question that I will never forget. They said, “Do you enjoy working at Cracker Barrel?” And I was like, man. I mean, maybe some people do, but no, I did not enjoy working at Cracker Barrel. So he asked me if I wanted to join the customer service team. I joined the customer service team, and very quickly, we needed some social media help. So he asked if I wanted to start learning that stuff. And I have no background in marketing, zero. The only marketing I have is marketing our Country Fried Chicken at Cracker Barrel. You know what I mean?

Molly: And that sells itself!

Laura: Yeah, exactly, yeah. I didn’t have to do too much work to sell you some biscuits and gravy. So I started learning all this stuff. I went to Social Media Marketing World. I read a bunch of books. And here I am, five years later now, the social media director for BOOM, and of course, educator for Smart Marketer.

Molly: That’s awesome. As Ezra always says, “Cracker Barrel to Gucci apparel.” So silly. And of course, there’s nothing wrong with working at Cracker Barrel. There are people that I’m sure love that job, but, you know, this is something you were interested in and, like, look how far you’ve come in the past five or six years.

4:07 Molly: Laura, can you, kind of, tell us, like, how that progression went. Like you didn’t just go from customer service to, okay, I’m this bad-ass social media manager of a $40 million-plus a year company. And there were a lot of other things that you do in the business than social media. So can you, kind of, tell us, like, what was that progression, and then now, sort of, what is your day-to-day look like?

Laura: Yeah, so I feel like at first, it was kind of scattered, right? I was learning all these different things and I got all the puzzle pieces, but putting them together was a job in and of itself, you know, figuring out where social media fits in the whole marketing ecosystem. I learned a little bit of email — I learned a lot of email, actually — a little bit of content marketing and things like that. And I went to a bunch of different marketing conferences, when I really had no idea what I was even listening to. So it was almost, at first, learning a different language and really just getting my footing there, I want to say, for the first, like, two years of this and trying things and failing and just figuring out what worked, for a long time, for a couple of years.
And then, yeah, so how that progressed into what I’m doing now is, at some point, all the pieces fell together. And that’s how I got to where I am right now with I have a team of four girls that work wonderfully with me to put all these pieces together with the content marketing, social media marketing, email marketing. And we created… Well, actually, when I first started, Ezra had this COSA system for the content marketing, in which I learned how to do all of my job in the first place, was this COSA system. And through all of the education that I was taking and implementing, we were able to evolve this I.C.O.S.A. system into what it is today and it worked so good then. But even now, like you said, as a $40-plus million company, it works just as well.
Molly: And I love what you said about everything just clicks, because I think a lot of folks expect to dive into this and you just know everything, and that’s definitely not how it goes. And like even, you know, all of us are still picking up little pieces every day.

6:21 Molly: I’m interested, how do you feel your time in…with the customer service team, how did that fit into what you do now? Because, you know, social media is just another form of communication to the target audience. You know, it’s just another way to reach these folks. Do you feel like that time really helped you understand the avatar?

Laura: Oh, yeah. I think starting off in customer service and really understanding the people and the questions they had and the pain points they had, to then put together the content in a way that I knew was going to resonate with them was super helpful. And even all the other girls on my team also came from customer service. So I think it’s wonderful that we started there and really had a one-on-one with the people that we were serving to know how we want to deliver the content now that we’re in the positions that we’re in.

Molly: Yeah. That makes perfect sense.
John: I love your story because it shows so well this principle Ezra talks about all the time of bringing people up in the game, which is really, really fun. And I’m curious, how did you know social was the right place for you to go, you know, a mile deep?

Laura: I think it was part me and part, you know, the leaders of the company seeing…really taking note of where I was excelling when I would do these things. Right? So Ezra noticed, for example, that I really enjoyed diving deep on what was going on in the social media world and the content system and all these kinds of things. He would give me other jobs to do where I just wasn’t as good at them and they’d ended up falling, you know, off the back burner or whatever. So I think that’s kind of how I ended up just going deep into social is it’s where I showed the most interest in which Ezra kind of doubled down on my education there and bringing me up in the game.

Molly: Follow the fun.

Laura: Yeah, exactly.

8:11 Molly: There are people listening to this that are more of the career avatar, so they might be currently working as an employee or a freelancer and, you know, they’re listening to your story and it’s inspirational. And then, we also have business owners listening and marketing managers and folks that are like, “Okay, I want to find someone like Laura and train her.” And how do you feel Ezra aided in that? I mean, of course, he was sending you to conferences and courses, but is there anything else that was really beneficial that other people in leadership positions, you think, need to know when they’re wanting to cultivate, you know, someone like you?

Laura: Yeah. I mean, I think the biggest thing that comes to mind is, like, I wasn’t afraid to mess up, which I think was a big driver in my success was, like, I was always willing and given the freedom to try new things, obviously, within a boundary of some sorts, but I didn’t freak out. I wasn’t afraid to go to my boss when I mess something up. I almost wanted to go to him and be like, “Look, I messed this thing up. How do we either fix this? Or is it a happy accident?” You know what I mean? Like, look what I figured out. Like, I messed it up, but… What’d you say?

Molly: Aren’t you proud of me?

Laura: Yeah, exactly. When I did mess something up, he was always very much like, “Okay, we messed it up. This is how we’ll do it next time.” And we move on. And I think that was a big, like I said, driver of my growth in the company was just having that freedom to either mess up or succeed but in a way that was in my own kind of boundaries.

Molly: Love it. Yeah, I mean, I think freedom is the best thing you can give any person in your life, but especially someone that’s working with you, especially in a stressful environment, like online business. You’re going to mess up. You know, if you’re not messing up, you’re probably not moving fast enough. So I couldn’t agree more. And that just allows you more openness to try new things and think out of the box and not be so structured. So that’s really cool. I mean, the journey is still going. Laura is about to teach a mentorship for Smart Marketer. We’re launching a Train My Social Media Manager Mentorship. You know, you’re speaking on stages, you’re doing podcasts. Like this is just the beginning of this chapter, which is exciting.

Laura: Yeah. It’s funny, I’d never expected myself to be in the position that I am in now.

Molly: Same!

10:45 Molly: I have another question. That’s always been interesting to me about you, and the fact that you and Mike, your husband, own this jiu-jitsu gym and you’re also, you know, in this amazing role, how do you balance those? And I’m sure that being an entrepreneur with the gym has really helped you, especially on the Smart Marketer side of things.

Laura: Yeah, definitely. So we had the gym… So I guess when I said before that I had zero marketing experience, I was kind of wrong there, because we did start this gym together a while ago. My husband, when we first got together, he quit his job. This was, kind of, like what he wanted to do. And I was the business side of things. He had the talent, he could teach jiu-jitsu, he could teach anyone jiu-jitsu, he’s great at it, but I was running the business side of things.

Molly: How do you balance it day to day? I just imagine how much you were doing for BOOM as the marketing director, and then you guys are running this business. I just think it’s interesting.

Laura: Yeah. So I try to keep…and obviously, this doesn’t happen all the time…but I try to keep a boundary around the day to day at BOOM or Smart Marketer and Mike and I are a really, really good team, where if he needs something or I need something, we can carve out time together and make decisions there, you know, in that moment or carve out some time and plan to make decisions and that… But we really put a lot of intention as well on our relationship. We have three dogs. There’s a lot of time management that has to go on in my house, essentially. And we actually just opened a second location for our gym, so we have two gyms, three dogs, and, you know, my full-time job.
So I think it just kind of happens naturally for him and I, and I know that’s not a great answer, telling people that, but we’ve been together for a very long time. So managing work, work, and life comes pretty easily for us.

John: Well, one thing I have to say on this, so I’d love to hear that about you and Mike. And I think it’s a good lesson for people in life in general, you and Mike are different, right? He is tactical. He’s in there, living…I mean, literally using jiu-jitsu tactics, right. And you’re working on the other side. So you have, kind of, different approaches to solving problems. And I think one way to really help yourself grow is to find people who you can relate to and connect with well, who have different strengths than you, and really forge that relationship. And I’m specifically thinking, honestly, Molly and I, even business partners for like three or four years now, and we… You know, she’s more creative brain, I’m more analytical brain, which makes it really fun for us to bounce ideas. And I know for my wife and I, she is… She and I have kind of the same brain, but we both work in the same industry and do a lot of idea bouncing. And I think that is a very powerful tool for going deep in whatever you want to do. Right. If it’s marketing, if it’s jiu-jitsu, if it’s something else, finding people you can really talk through ideas with is so powerful and learning to, you know, hear what other people have to say and weigh it against your own experience and what you think and finding a way to navigate between two different people’s truths and experiences, one of the best ways to hone your skills, whatever they might be.

Molly: Yeah. I love that. And I love what you said, John, about you’re meeting in the middle in your friendship or your relationship or whatever that is. But at the core, it’s fun. And there is a relationship there. And Laura, I’m sure that’s why things work with you and Mike, and, you know,

John, you and Catherine, and you and I working together. And I feel the same way about my partner. It’s like, okay, at the core, we’re coming together because we like each other and this is fun, but we all bring different skills to the table.

Laura: Yeah. And I think as long as the end goal is keeping it fun, you know, at the end of the day, it all falls into place.

Molly: Yeah. And it works out. Fun is the goal, love is the way.

14:42 Molly: I do have a question to round things out here for you. But if you had to give yourself a piece of advice when you were just getting started in all of this, six or seven years ago, what would it be?

Laura: Oh man.

Molly: Put you on the spot.

Laura: I know. Let’s see. I think it would probably be to slow down. I know…

Molly: I love it.

Laura: Yeah. I feel like when I thought about marketing and getting this job in marketing, it reminded me of every kind of corporate job that I have had, right, where I thought it was like, go, go, go, go, go. And then I would end up messing up a ton of things. And like I said, I wasn’t afraid to mess them up, but I was messing up silly things, where if I just took a moment and took a deep breath and realize that maybe that link was wrong in the email the first time, I would have been able to, I think, learn a little better. I think I would’ve been able to be more productive when I first started this job if I had slowed down, taken more time for myself, yeah, and just kind of took a deep breath.

Molly: Yeah, slow down to speed up.

Laura: Yeah. Work smarter, not harder.

Molly: Exactly. I think, especially in this industry, it can be so difficult because you feel like there are so many things to do or so many things that you could be doing. And things are changing so quickly and developing so quickly, you know, it’s hard not to feel like speed is the most important aspect of what we do. But I agree. I had the same issue, like trying to do too many things. And I think it’s not even the mistakes you make, like putting the wrong link in the email. It’s just that you’re not allowing yourself enough focus to truly be good at a few things or to go a bit deeper, which I think, especially when you’re just getting started, you know, that’s what you’re trying to figure out. You’re figuring out what discipline am I best in. And I think, for you, like this is a perfect example, social media was where you really shined, what you were attracted to in the beginning, and now you’re the marketing director. It’s a much broader role. Same thing with me. I was really attracted to media buying and I’m really glad that I slowed down and went deep into that discipline. And then obviously, my skillset has broadened since. And same thing with John, with analytics. So I think that’s great advice for everybody listening.

17:08 So we just put the finishing touches on a brand-new free resource for all of you Smart Marketer podcast listeners out there. This free resource goes deep into the I.C.O.S.A. Framework, how you can use it in your business, the day-to-day schedule of a successful social media manager, and much more valuable content, all for free. And you can grab it yourself at, that is Enjoy, and we’ll talk to you soon.

17:56 Thank you so much for listening to this episode of “The Smart Marketer Podcast.” For any resources mentioned on the show today, please visit our show notes at If you enjoyed this episode, please leave us an honest review on whichever platform you are listening. Thanks again, and we’ll see you next time.

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