MCA Management Awards 2009: Best Small Firm and winner, Customer Engagement category


Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

The Best Small Firm Award is given to the best entry made by a small firm (under 50 full-time consultants) across the 11 remaining categories after the Platinum Award has been made.

If you're of a certain age and have spent time in the north of England, there's a good chance you have a sentimental connection to Seabrook Crisps. It's a well-loved brand, but hazy memories and affection aren't enough to sustain a business that had changed little in 30 years - particularly in a market dominated by Walkers, complete with enough marketing budget to make Gary Lineker the face of its ads and a fearsome new-product development programme.

Established in 1945 by a Mr C Brook (geddit?), Seabrook Crisps remains in family ownership. But when Ken Brook-Chrispin took over the reins in 2006, he knew the business had to change fundamentally. He wanted to stay true to its values but create a new way of doing business with trade buyers, who demand national brands supported by big trade and consumer marketing campaigns. He had his work cut out: the company had no structured approach to sales and marketing, no regular dialogue with buyers, no key account strategy and no formal new-product development programme. Brook-Chrispin was aware too that the crisp market was in decline and that concerns about health and obesity were taking another bite out of the business.

Propaganda recommended a discovery programme - a 360-degree audit of what trade customers and consumers wanted, what they thought of Seabrook and what for them made it different. This 12-week process included top-team workshops, one-to-one interviews with directors, employees and trade buyers, and consumer focus groups.

Research within the top team identified a fundamental failing: there was no regular forum for addressing business strategy. Propaganda developed a business plan driven by a monthly board meeting and Propaganda chairman Julian Kynaston was appointed as non-executive director with responsibility for chairing and directing these meetings.

Senior management were, for the first time, challenged to own their departmental development plans, reporting to the board with progress updates. The board also agreed to make important new hires with the necessary skills to take the business forward, including a new managing director with FMCG and big-brand experience.

The sales team was shaken up - it now has national account managers - and the manufacturing side has been bolstered with the appointment of specialists in operations, purchasing and performance improvement.

A fresh consumer marketing programme was launched, including £2m worth of PR and a TV advertising and product placement campaign. The intention was to expose the brand to more than 30 million consumers, taking it beyond northern England, while an online viral campaign and website targeted a younger audience.

Finally, Propaganda recommended an ingredient review that resulted in Seabrook introducing the UK's largest range of everyday, 100% clean label crisps (ie, no MSG or GM). And, recognising the growing demand for indulgent, gourmet and alternative flavours, Seabrook has launched a 'hot and spicy' range in grab and sharing bags.

Thanks to these changes, sales at Seabrook are up 15% year-on-year, projected turnover is up 37%, sales to the multiple retailers are up (Asda has increased its stock levels by 300%), and 50 new trade accounts have been won.

'The insight and direction from the 360-degree audit gave us the courage to make the step-change required,' says Brook-Chrispin, 'from the way we engaged both the trade and our consumers, to the way we policed our business strategy.'


Propaganda conducted a top-to-bottom audit of family firm Seabrook Crisps to put its top management and its operations, marketing and sales efforts onto a more professional footing. The 12-week review resulted in several new key appointments, a structured sales team, a multi-media marketing programme and a revised product range to target a better-understood and extended trade and consumer customer base. Already, sales are up by 15% and turnover by 37%.

- Recognise the difference between respect for the past and resistance to change;

- Neglect regular business strategy reviews at your peril;

- Hire the best people you can afford.

Best Small Firm award sponsored by cph sonsulting

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