Exceedingly good news: Premier Foods promotes marketing boss as sales grow

Yilmaz Erceyes becomes chief marketing officer as Mr Kipling owner boosts media investment.

Erceyes: joined Premier Foods in March 2015 from Procter & Gamble
Erceyes: joined Premier Foods in March 2015 from Procter & Gamble

Premier Foods has promoted Yilmaz Erceyes, previously marketing director of the UK business unit, to the newly created role of chief marketing officer.

The move comes as Premier, which owns brands including Mr Kipling, Bisto and Batchelors, reported strong results for the six months to September, with revenue up 2.4% and operating profit surging 26.9%, causing its share price to jump more than 10% to its highest level in more than a year.

Speaking to Campaign, Erceyes said his new title was "a recognition of the role marketing played in the company’s turnaround" – the business is in its ninth quarter of sales growth after a tumultuous few years. 

"We’ve turned around the company and we’re now into ‘outperformance’," he said. "The company used to be a trading-led, very short term-focused company; if you wind back the clock five or six years ago, there was no new product development happening, not much brand-building happening. 

"The core of our turnaround was innovation and brand-building as the core of our strategy. Marketing's sole existence is to do innovation and create brand-building."

As well as a shift in strategic thinking, Premier is putting its money where its mouth is: Erceyes said its media spend in the current financial year would be double that of the last one. In Premier’s results announcement last week, it credited TV advertising as a key factor in helping Mr Kipling grow revenues by 8%. TV spend on Mr Kipling in the current year will be four times that of last year, Erceyes added.

But this does not mean a glut of new ads; the brand is still using the same single execution, "Little thief", created by McCann London, that launched in March 2018. The only current change will be a 10-second tag to promote mince pies that will run ahead of Christmas. Gravy brand Bisto, meanwhile, is on to its third year of using the same execution.

The approach reflects that of Unilever and Procter & Gamble, which have both cut the number of ads on the belief that those already in existence can work harder.

Erceyes said it was a challenge for marketers, who are generally excited by the new, to put themselves in the shoes of consumers, who clearly have less exposure to ad campaigns than the people making them.

"I always felt marketers get bored of ideas a lot quicker than consumers do," he said. "It’s our life, isn’t it – you see something 24/7. You think consumers have no other interests than just being engaged in your brand. One of the things I’m doing is we’re creating less executions, but spending quality time creating one that delivers on all key metrics and we really run it until it wears out." 

There is no fixed plan on when to replace "Little thief", with Erceyes noting: "We’ll keep monitoring – if it continues to perform well, we’ll continue to drive it."

The elevation of Erceyes comes after Alex Whitehouse was promoted from managing director to chief executive in August, ending a nine-month search after former chief executive Gavin Darby was forced to resign by shareholders.

There are no radical changes to his role, but Erceyes said the change meant "there were some dotted lines [reporting into him] that now become a very solid line". Erceyes now has about 180 staff reporting to him, including roughly 60 marketers, as well as the R&D consumer insights and analytics functions and a small team called "business improvement", which is tasked with finding efficiencies to free up money to funnel back into brand-building and staff development.

While many top marketers cite the challenge of attracting talent as one of the toughest parts of the job, Erceyes insists this is not the case for him. 

"One of the things that attracts people [to Premier Foods] is – marketing is at the core of Premier’s business model," he said. Each category is led by a category marketing director, who has "full ownership" of that part of the business, down to responsibility for the P&L. 

"Marketing [here] is like general management – that’s why this is something very attractive and interesting for many who see marketing as a future career up to general management or a CEO role."

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