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Client Interview

By The Drum, Administrator

January 17, 2007 | 8 min read

If you know Seabrook Crisps, the chances are you’ll already be smiling. You might even be feeling hungry. Just about now. You’ll be thinking of those white packets, the tantalisingly brittle ridges and sea salt within. You’ll be asking yourself if Canadian Ham really is better than Worcester Sauce? You might even be picturing that logo and wondering why it conjures up thoughts of seaside guest houses, TVs with wooden sides and the wind-whipped walk home from school.

Now, stop a second. Think of Walkers. And what are you thinking of? Gary bloody Lineker.

If you don’t know Seabrook Crisps, then Ken Brook-Chrispin wants to educate you. The appropriately named Chrispin is chairman of the Bradford-born, bred and based crisp manufacturer. He’s also, which heralds his appearance here, the man responsible for guiding the company towards its first-ever advertising and marketing campaign. Well, second actually.

“We have advertised once before, come to think of it,” says the 57-year-old from his new agency’s offices in Leeds. “We did put an ad in the newsletter of a local football club a few years back.”

Although we’re obviously not one to question the awesome power of advertising, it’s doubtful that this sojourn contributed much to the firm’s rather robust market position.

Seabrook currently produces 750,000 packets of crisps, in 19 flavours, a day. It’s a top-five UK crisp producer, employing 170 staff and turning over something in the region of £15million a year (scarily, that’s about £5m less than Walkers’ advertising spend). In its heartlands of Yorkshire and Lancashire, Seabrook’s products are followed with near religious fervour. Beyond that – and especially in the south – mention Seabrook’s name and barely a solitary taste bud tingles in response. And that, dear reader, is the crux of the problem.

“In the past we haven’t actively resisted marketing ourselves, we’ve just never felt the need to bother,” explains Chrispin (who, incidentally, seems like a very pleasant, switched-on guy – until we find out that his favourite song is Bette Midler’s Wind Beneath My Wings. I’d keep that a secret if I were you, Ken). “We’ve just let the crisps do the talking and relied on the grapevine, which has been a great servant of Seabrook. After all, that’s why we’re so large in the north.

“However, word of mouth only spreads so far, and in a market that’s moving ever faster, getting more and more competitive, we have to develop something more than that. We just have to get new people to try them. Once they have, we’re secure in the fact that they will like the product. The conversion rate from people trying to buying and then becoming advocates is marvellous. It’s just crossing that first all-important hurdle.”

Hence the reason, for the first time since it formed in 1945, Seabrook has decided to employ a marketing agency to give the company a leg-up. Leeds-based Propaganda is the agency entrusted with spreading the Seabrook gospel, and it’s in those offices that Chrispin is currently sitting, alongside his recently appointed marketing director, Propaganda’s founder and chairman Julian Kynaston.

Eyebrows on the industry circuit have been raised before at mention of the dual agency/client role that Kynaston and co enjoy with some (to date about five) of the companies which employ them. Kynaston’s directorship with the crisp company may well be causing some of those eyebrows to arch again right now, especially among Seabrook evangelists. So, with the company’s aims to the fore, let’s get this out in the open – how does this melding of boundaries help the client achieve its objectives?

“The director role within the client company isn’t glamour or ego driven,” replies the straight-talking Kynaston, who was actually appointed to Seabrook’s board three weeks ago. “Unless there is that influential ability at the client company – to work at their office, to roll your sleeves up with the team, to spend three days with finance – then you’ll suffer. You won’t know the business inside out, and as a result, it’s difficult to do anything other than respond.

“For example, if a client has a problem with trading, the only time an agency knows about it is when it gets a job cancelled. In this environment you see the trading at the coalface and you can do something – you can spot opportunities with your marketing head on that the client might not notice. In a traditional client/agency partnership that’s impossible.”

Kynaston is quick to point out that “historical trials” show the system is capable of working wonders (GHD being the most high-profile example). Seabrook obviously concurs. The firm’s legions of followers will just be praying it doesn’t work Golden Wonders. But with the groundwork that Propaganda has put in, that hardly looks likely.

“We’ve now been working together for about six months, and for four of them, we’ve just been heads down in consumer groups and pouring through research,” says Kynaston of the agency’s process-driven response to the brief. “One thing we’re not going to do with a company that hasn’t advertised since 1945 is to rush into things. That would be stupid.

“There’s such latent brand equity here, such a connection between the consumer and the brand itself, that we realise how important this job is. We’re working inside out on it because we’re conscious that we can’t get it anything other than 100% bang on.”

Propaganda and Seabrook emerged from the aforementioned focus groups with a clear vision of the values the brand imparts to its audience – namely “lip-smacking, no-nonsense and northern pride”. It’s these core totems that are set to dictate the imminent £3m marketing push the company will forge ahead with through 2007.

This thought, and probably that budget, leaves Chrispin, in his own words, “petrified”, but due to his desire to appeal to new consumers – and, crucially, the buyers from the multiples, which now buy nationally instead of regionally – it’s a necessary expenditure. Or as Kynaston more incisively says: “Why is this company marketing now? Because it has to. The multiples are buying differently and we have to keep up with them and we have to spread understanding and awareness of the brand from the heartland to the rest of the country. The competition, especially from Walkers, is fiercer than it’s ever been and we need to respond to that.”

The fulcrum of this response will be a summer TV campaign currently shrouded in secrecy, although we do know the buying will be handled by Mediavest Manchester (“Dave Lucas [a managing partner] has personal responsibility on this,” says Kynaston) and it will be shot by a respected Canadian director over the next month or so.

With regards the creative idea, the marketing chief will only divulge that “it will be very respectful of the core values of the Seabrook brand – although I do think people will be surprised at how we articulate them”. A rather mouth-watering case of wait and see.

Propaganda knows it has to tread carefully though. If it’s too leftfield with its execution, it risks the ire of Seabrook’s perfervid fan-base who actually launched a campaign to force the company to re-instate its traditional ‘windowed’ bags when foil packaging was introduced last year. (“We didn’t realise just how vehement some of our loyal supporters were,” says Chrispin.) But if Propaganda remains too anodyne, then new consumers simply won’t sit up and take notice. Potentially, the agency could be on quite a sticky wicket.

Kynaston, however, is buoyed by the agency’s initial success with the firm’s sponsorship of the Blah Party (which, according to TMS, garnered some £800,000 of publicity for Seabrook), and is characteristically bullish.

“Seabrook,” he concludes, “is a living, breathing example that you can create premier-league brands without the use of traditional advertising and marketing. It shows that if you have a great business delivering a great product, you can create a great brand.

“Now that the firm has created that, the enormous latent equity in the brand will drive this relaunch forward and help the campaign enormously, multiplying the effect of the media spend. That £3m may be £17m less than Walkers, but its impact will be far beyond what those figures suggest.

“We know that once we launch this, we’re on a different track and there will be no going back. This effectively is going to be a huge sea-change for Seabrook.”

This, as long as Chrispin and co don’t change the flavours (please), could see Seabrook emerging as a force that is finally capable of tackling Mr Lineker et al on a national playing field. A tasty proposition indeed.

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