As Sara Lee integrates, so does its comms

After knocking down walls among disciplines, Sara Lee embarks on a global reputation effort

After knocking down walls among disciplines, Sara Lee embarks on a global reputation effort

At one point in the not too distant past, Sara Lee had the number one-selling hot dog and top-selling bun in the US. However, it never ran a cross-promotional marketing effort because each product was from a different brand division under the Sara Lee umbrella. The hot dog was a Ball Park product, and the bun was from the Sara Lee division.

Jon Harris, SVP of global communications at Sara Lee, says the problem stemmed from a serious lack of communication owing to the company being so segmented, with each brand acting independently of one another.

"We never did a co-marketing campaign or promotion, and it never occurred to us [to do one] because we were siloed," Harris explains. "Over the past two years, those walls have been broken down."

In that time, Sara Lee has been transforming itself from a set of companies into a single integrated company, and Harris says the various communications disciplines are following suit by morphing into one integrated communications team. And as Sara Lee continues to move in this direction, he says PR will play an integral role in the company's internal and external projects.

"The role of PR is going to be even more instrumental than it has been before," Harris notes. "We have a tremendous opportunity to speak more regularly and consistently with all of our key audiences. Our goal will be to use communications to educate, motivate, and activate our various audiences."

He says Sara Lee has "shed 40% of its businesses over the last couple of years." The company is now made up of four divisions: food, beverage, household, and body care.
Harris' goal is to position Sara Lee as one global company designed to meet the needs of its consumers and stakeholders in every one of its key markets worldwide.

"We want to increase employee engagement through consistent, relevant communications," he explains. "And we want to increase awareness trial of our brands, and that's through brand communications, as well. For us, the time has come to better drive the global communications effort to be more consistent and effective at improving our reputation among all of our audiences. And I think... it's critical that we let folks understand where the company is."

This effort will get under way immediately, Harris notes. Sara Lee's global communications team of 20 people will proactively work to enhance the relationships it currently has and work to develop relationships "with key media we don't have," he says. "That means proactively approaching business media."

Other projects will include getting exposure for its spokespeople and leaders by offering them as industry experts to the media. Harris adds that he also will utilize the company's brand PR efforts.

"In the US, we will be working closely with our brand teams to seek opportunities for corporate media coverage during new product launches, brand campaigns, consumer programs, and overarching brand portfolio objectives," Harris says. "We are going to be creating sponsorship and community investment guidelines. Internally, we will work to educate our key stakeholders about the business and where it is going, and Sara Lee's overall strategy."

And like other large corporations, Harris is concerned with the company's global reputation. "I want to annually measure our global reputation among key audiences to deter- mine our progress and see if the communications efforts are helping to drive the positive changes in Sara Lee's reputation," he says.

C.J. Fraleigh, CEO of Sara Lee Food & Beverage and EVP of Sara Lee Corp., says the company wants to be engaged in the lives of consumers, and PR allows it do that.
"This means bringing our brands to where people live and play," he explains. "We've done this with the Jimmy Dean Happy Breakfast Tour where people stumble upon a big breakfast party in the public square. It's seen in our work with Ellen DeGeneres and Rachael Ray to support their charitable efforts on their TV shows."

Fraleigh says when PR works collaboratively with marketing, it gains a better understanding about consumers "and what they expect and want from us." PR has also helped drive the conversation between the company and its customers, as well as its "innovation" efforts.

"It's easy to market an innovative product, but PR enables us to tell our story about how we innovate," he says. "Our ability to tell this story educates our consumers about our commitment to taste and convenience."

AT A GLANCE

Company: Sara Lee
Chairman and CEO: Brenda Barnes
Headquarters: Downers Grove, IL
Revenues and latest earnings: Reported revenue of $15.94 billion for fiscal year '06; earnings of $911 million
Competitors: Kraft Foods, ConAgra Foods
Key trade titles: Baking Management, Nation's Restaurant News, Supermarket News, Progressive Grocer, The National Provisioner, Refrigerated and Frozen Foods
PR budget: Undisclosed
Marcomms team: Jon Harris, global comms SVP, Sara Lee Food & Beverage, Kim Feil, CMO, Sara Lee Food & Beverage, Victor Young, corporate comms manager, Mike Cummins, corporate comms director
Marketing service agencies: PR: MWW Group, O'Malley Hansen Communications, Manning Selvage & Lee (New York), Dig Communications Advertising: TBWA\Chiat\Day

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