Profile: Power behind The King

Sarah Power, UK and Ireland marketing director at Burger King, is stepping up its challenge to McDonald's. Interview by John Reynolds.

Sarah Power, UK and Ireland marketing director at Burger King
Sarah Power, UK and Ireland marketing director at Burger King

The idea of interviewing Burger King's Sarah Power in one of the chain's outlets was, in theory, an appealing prospect.

Marketing imagined Power, Burger King's ebullient UK and Ireland marketing director, interrupting the interview to occasionally banter with staff, or perhaps lunge across to a nearby table to extol the virtues of an Angus burger to an unsuspecting family. Yet irritating, tinny music and crowds of chattering tourists make one hanker for the more usual interview venue: the company boardroom.

Power herself is a whirlwind of energy. She is engaging and delightfully down-to-earth, while her Irish accent and indulgent laugh are infectious and easily offset the background distractions.

The interview takes place on the same day as chancellor George Osborne announces cuts likely to lead to the loss of 500,000 public sector jobs - a hammer blow that is forcing Burger King, like the rest of the country, to adapt to the straitened times.

The fast-food chain, which launched a £75 burger two years ago, is now preparing to make a play for hard-up customers with the launch of its first 'value menu'.

Value perception

Power says it is important to offer a range of products at different price points. 'We have premium products that would not be out of place at a posh restaurant and, on the other hand, we have value offerings like the King Deals - and now, our affordability menu launching in January,' she explains.

Burger King's concerted attack on the value market is running alongside the much-hyped landing on British shores of The King, the plastic-faced mascot who is spearheading its advertising push.

To a young audience, The King could appear disconcertingly unfamiliar, but Burger King has used him to drive sales in the US and other markets, where he is the brand's equivalent of Ronald McDonald.

The King, according to Power, is a 'benevolent' figure, a modern-day Pied Piper who will become a key fixture in the brand's UK advertising. 'The King is at different stages in different markets. In the UK he is a messenger, but in other markets he offers more comedic value,' she adds.

Imagery of The King hanging above the heads of the youngsters chomping on their food in Burger King's Westfield outlet suggests the chain is going all-out to introduce the mascot to UK consumers.

Burger King's sales could certainly use a regal touch: global revenues were down 2.3% in the year to June. Arguably, this should be a time when purveyors of fast food are able to reap the benefit of consumers trading down from more expensive eating-out options.

Jeffrey Young, managing director of consultancy Allegra Strategies, believes that Burger King is playing catch-up to McDonald's on several fronts, including its value proposition, coffee offering and store aesthetics. 'It needs to provide a premium setting for its premium burgers,' he says.

While there is no detailed breakdown of its results in the UK, Power insists Burger King 'has had a strong couple of years'. However, she admits that, as a challenger brand, it has to be creative. 'We are smaller than our (main) competitor and have smaller budgets, but our advertising, PR and online activity is much more edgy.'

This edginess showed itself earlier this year, when Burger King undertook a national campaign to promote its three-cheese Angus product. It eschewed TV in favour of an email-driven strategy.

'TV advertising is still fundamental, but we have changed the media mix,' says Power. 'We have realised the importance of outdoor and online and are now much more integrated in our approach.'

Yet Burger King should be commended for its pro-active approach in stopping the advertising of its products to children. It adapted this stance five years ago, and now makes an active play for adults' attention.

Perhaps one of the most significant developments in hand will be the ongoing overhaul of its franchisees' outlets to its sleek and contemporary '20/20 format', complete with electronic-screen menus.

The cost will be significant to Burger King's new private-equity owner 3G Capital, as it looks to transform the chain into a more consumer-friendly place to eat.

Visiting franchises accounts for a significant part of Power's week, while also finding time to meet up with Burger King's various agencies, including creative shop Crispin Porter & Bogusky.

Travelling has been a necessary element of Power's career, which has spanned roles at tea and coffee specialist Bewley's, sausage brands Richmond and Porkinson, and latterly Kerry Foods.

Power considers her time at Bewley's as formative, trading with buyers from heavyweight retailers such as French hypermarket chain Carrefour at the tender age of 21. Rising up the corporate ladder, she was stationed in London to work on her own - a situation that did not sit easily with her effervescent character.

Her standout achievement during her time at Kerry Foods was working on the launch of chicken-breast snack Fridge Raiders.

However, that era is largely defined for Power as the time she met her husband, who is now commercial director at Jordan's and Ryvita. 'I give him burger vouchers and he gives me Ryvita in return,' she jokes, adding that he acts as a useful taste-tester for new products.

Power switched from Kerry Foods to Burger King as senior marketing manager at the end of 2006. She was impressed by its marketing mantra of 'think like a brand-owner and act like a retailer' - which, she says was a real 'wow moment' - and has focused on balancing the two ever since.

Although Power admits that she did not frequent its restaurants before her appointment, she now claims to put away at least two Burger King meals a week.

Her replacement of David Kisilevsky as marketing director has coincided with the promotion of rival McDonald's marketing director Jill McDonald to chief executive. Is this a career path Power sees for herself?

'It is great for the industry that marketing people are promoted to the chief executive role, but for me, the job changes so much from month to month that it is never monotonous,' she says. 'Sure, I have ambitions to be managing director, but it's not on my radar right now.'

The career clincher, adds Power, is the 'marketing freedom' that Burger King has granted her. So long as the company continues to satisfy that hunger, she can see herself in the top job one day - taking her place alongside The King.


1999-2003: Retail brand manager, rising to group marketing manager, Bewley's

2003-2005: Senior brand manager, Richmond and Porkinson

2005-2006: Senior brand manager, Mattesons, rising to marketing manager, Mattesons and Kerry Foods

2006-present: Senior marketing manager, rising to marketing director UK and Ireland, Burger King


Family: Married

Favourite brand: Prada

Favourite holiday destination: Denia, Spain