Jeffrey Hayzlett

By Jeffrey Hayzlett

Party City Creating Joy Despite COVID: CMO Interview

Party City Creating Joy Despite COVID: CMO Interview 150 150 jeffreyhayzlett


Change is inevitable – it’s a part of life and if there’s one thing I’ve learned during the COVID-19 pandemic is that change accelerates everything. As I like to say, “Days are weeks, weeks are months, months are years.” Your actions today have major impacts on the weeks to come.


I spoke to someone who knows all about change. Julie Roehm is the Chief Marketing and Experience Officer at Party City and she joined the C-Suite Network during our High Stakes Leadership Forum recently. But, let’s rewind back to March, and though it may seem like it was ages ago, it really wasn’t. Julie said she was still settling into her new job at Party City when the pandemic hit.


“I had just gotten (my laptop) and the next day we shut down stores due to COVID. It was a mess,” Julie recalled. “But, it’s actually been really great because the team has had the vision for transformation since I got there.”


During her short tenure at Party City, almost the entire c-suite leadership team was relatively new; therefore, changing the company’s mission.


“We had this vision from the get go, to move us from the seller of party goods to the provider of a party experience because we’re so much more than selling stuff,” Julie said. “That’s what hooked me. I’m a sucker for a transformation project.”


“The beautiful thing about this group of executives, probably because more than half of us are brand new is that we were all in it to win it. We were working together. There’s no pride of ownership,” Julie said. “We’ve just got a huge amount of passion for what this business can be.”


With the pandemic literally changing the world, leadership at Party City decided to not just try to survive the shutdown, but to thrive in spite of it!


Julie reached out to her network and in a matter of days, struck a delivery deal with Hertz to bring the party to customers across the country. In fact, the CEO addressed the leadership’s teams entire plan to bring the party to customers in the post COVID response plan in the following letter addressed on the company’s website:

Party City’s promise has always been to help people create joy by making it easy to create unforgettable memories. And during this pandemic, we had to innovate and adapt quickly. Here are a few examples:



Curbside Pickup/Same-Day Delivery:

By the end of this week, we will have introduced our curbside pickup and/or delivery offerings to nearly 600 stores nationwide. We’ll make this service available permanently.

Adventure in a Box: In response to quarantine requirements, we created themed “survival kits” for families, to provide a convenient and safe solution to social distancing fatigue and boredom – from movie night to family game night. We’ve continued to expand these kits to include virtual birthdays, graduation, Mother’s Day, and more.


Drive-by Birthday Celebrations:

Even in this unconventional time, parents are finding innovative ways to celebrate their children’s birthdays virtually. To make this easy, we’ve created an assortment of “driveway drop party kits” that make it easy for parents to host virtual birthday celebrations for their kids and friends while respecting social distancing guidelines. And we have kits for the adults who celebrate, too!


“What I think people didn’t necessarily appreciate about a pandemic is every company was trying to figure out what the hell to do,” Julie said. “Companies were much more willing to let their guard down and not be as precious about whatever they might have been precious about previously. Was it perfect? 100% no. Was it the right thing to do? 1000% yes.”


While everyone at Party City were aligned to reach the same path, that hasn’t always been the case throughout Julie’s career. When she was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Walmart, she made waves for painting her office chartreuse (which was not received well) and breaking the norms at one of the country’s largest retailers. Julie says her 11-month stint at Walmart was an eye opener.


“Culture eats strategy for lunch,” Julie said. “I think if you think about anybody who is great at what they do (and) you put them in an environment that is sort of the antithesis to who they are as a person, it doesn’t matter how great you are at what you do because there is no “I” in team.”


She continued, “The team that was there for me (at Walmart) wasn’t one that was of my culture. You could use the painting of my office a symbolic microcosm of a bigger macro issue, which is culture. I think some people liked it and some people felt violated.”


Fifteen years later, Julie learned a lot about culture and is excited to come to work every day.


“I don’t know how many people get to look at their daily calendar and you can be upset and look through it and it’s like there’s not a break. I don’t know when I’m going to pee, but you know what? I don’t care because all of my meetings are about balloons or birthdays. I’m excited about that. I’m in the business of creating joy. I have to come in every day and think about how I can make somebody happy,” she exclaimed.


Life in the c-suite isn’t all streamers, party favors, and celebrations. Sometimes current events, like the pandemic, unemployment and the Black Lives Matter movement need corporate attention. As a result, Party City set up a diversity committee and temporarily changed the theme of its website to reflect the make-up of its associates and customers.


“We’re about joy,” Julie said. “This is a beautiful thing. Let’s celebrate our togetherness. It doesn’t matter what we look like.”


Despite the changing business landscape Party City is committed to focus on their mission to create joy and memories and have mobilized a response plan to keep their mission moving forward.

Julie was a great guest as well as a long-time friend and I admire her for being an agent of change, community builder, and for being transparent. I’d like to thank her for her time with the C-Suite Network. Her interview is just a sample of the quality content and connections you receive with your membership. Not a member? Click here to learn more.