Campaign: Branston factory fire turns to sales asset - Crisis Management

Campaign: The Branston Pickle factory fire

Client: Premier Foods

PR team: CirKle Communications

Timescale: October-December 2004

Budget: £130,000

On 27 October last year, a fire ravaged Premier Foods' Branston Pickle factory in Bury St Edmunds and the company was forced to shut down production. Premier called on CirKle Communications to ensure media coverage reflected attempts to get the factory back on track and that Branston's sales did not suffer. Objectives

To turn initial fears about serious Branston shortages in the run-up to Christmas into a story about the strength of the brand, boosting demand.

Strategy and Plan

The team had to react quickly to hundreds of enquiries from national, regional and local media. Where possible, it fielded questions to company representatives, including Premier pickles and sauces division general manager Sue Knight, who appeared on national broadcast media. Local media were offered access to directors at the factory. CirKle also used two statements: one tailored to the tabloid press, with 'quirky' facts and figures about Branston, and another focusing more on the importance of the brand.

The main message aimed to reassure consumers that Premier was doing everything possible to restart production. Media-trained company representatives were primed to convey this message. The team also took advantage of a piece in the Daily Mail within days of the disaster referring to Branston as a 'national treasure' to point out its best-selling status and its particular popularity at Christmas.

When it became clear the factory would partially restart production a week earlier than expected, CirKle arranged a photocall featuring staff at the factory, emphasising how hard they had worked. Anglia TV interviewed group operations director Ian Croxford and photographs were sent to national and regional newspapers.

Measurement and Evaluation

CirKle used newspaper cuttings agency Romeike and broadcast coverage agency TNS to analyse exposure.

It gained 21 separate pieces of TV coverage on national and local TV including several pieces on the BBC, ITV and Sky News.

Radio coverage ran to 42 pieces on stations including Radio 5 Live, Heart FM and BBC Radio 4. The national press covered the crisis 20 times, while 147 articles appeared in the regional press, mainly in South-East and South-West England. CirKle also gained coverage on the website of East Anglia newspaper the Eastern Daily Press. About 90 per cent of the coverage was positive, reflecting the brand, while negative coverage focused on the fire damage.


As consumers panic-bought, sales of Branston grew 43 per cent in the week following the fire and 95 per cent in the week after that - the best selling week outside Christmas periods.

More than 250 jars were also auctioned on eBay, with prices reaching up to £5 for a single jar. However, sales returned to normal after news of the partial restart broke. The factory was fully operational by the beginning of January, and Premier is now beginning seasonal promotion of Branston for the pre-Easter sales period.

Daily Express reporter Tom Morgan says: 'CirKle realised it could turn this into good PR. There was never going to be a shortage because products are made months in advance, but CirKle did just enough to raise fears, so from their perspective, they did well.'

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