Sarah Reakes, managing director of KISS Communications
KISS is the creative agency that clarifies the complex. The company has specific and in-depth expertise in working in healthcare, science, technology and FMCG.
Since KISS started in 2007, the company has developed a fantastic range of blue chip, SME and disruptive start up clients around the UK.
Sarah Reakes joined KISS in 2010 and has recently been appointed managing director. Prior to joining KISS, Sarah worked in marketing and advertising both in-house and for agencies where she worked with a number of high profile international brands and companies including Colgate-Palmolive, Nestle, Kellogg’s and Kraft.
Since then Sarah has developed the strategic backbone that underpins everything KISS does. She is passionate about successful branding and communication strategies, and strongly believes that B2B marketing is just as important as B2C.
1. You have over 20 years’ experience in marketing and advertising. What has changed most since you started out?
The biggest change has been in the media with the growth of digital. As a result there is a fantastic opportunity to engage with consumers and have a conversation with them, which is really exciting. However the new digital era also puts great pressure on the role of the marketer to respond quickly and produce constantly updated content. As a result my team spends around 50 per cent of their time fully immersed in digital.
2. Over the years you have worked on Special K, Hobnobs, Philadelphia, Ritz and Vegemite. What do you enjoy about working with FMCG brands?
Often consumers have close relationships with brands in the FMCG sector that can be quite complex and long-term. Working with these brands you have the opportunity to talk to consumers, and find out what drives them, to understand what motivates them and generally to ‘get under their skin’. A consumer often has quite a personal relationship with a brand and that is what is so interesting about it.
3. Before settling back in the UK you worked in New Zealand, Australia, The Netherlands and Belgium. What made you decide Cambridge was the place for you?
I always wanted to come back to the UK eventually and was looking for somewhere outside of London where things were happening and the market is moving at pace. Cambridge is a really exciting place to be based; with such incredible tech and med tech companies in the cluster there is a real buzz about the place. Plus of course I can ride my bike here, which I became addicted to in The Netherlands!
4. When a company gets its marketing right the outcomes can be incredible. Who would you say has got it right?
There are lots of obvious examples that come to mind like Virgin or Apple – both of which have clear and consistent brand identities, ultimately driven by a strong corporate vision. However I think we can learn a lot from looking at examples in the FMCG market and brands such as Marmite or my particular favourite, Lurpak. They have a strong brand identity, which was well established in the category, but over the last couple of years it has used the equity it has to re-position itself as the home cook’s partner innovating and creating new usage opportunities. I think it’s always interesting for companies to consider what brands are doing outside of the categories they operate in to see if they can learn new ways of approaching market opportunities.
5. What do you think is the biggest stumbling block for companies looking at their branding and communications strategies?
I think the biggest hurdle is companies not being able to articulate what they want to say about themselves or what they want their brand to stand for. If they can pinpoint that and identify their priority target audiences, the next stage is a lot easier. Spending time upfront and really sorting out those issues can make the difference between success, and failure.
6. B2B branding has long been a poor relation in the industry, with the creative focus being on B2C. Why is strong B2B branding important?
I think B2B and B2C should be treated exactly the same. At the end of the day your B2B customer is still a consumer, surrounded by consumer advertising and marketing, they react to things in the same way. This means that you should always consider the emotional response as well when dealing with B2B marketing. So I don’t think we should treat them differently when it comes to marketing.
7. KISS is an integrated agency. In your experience how does Public Relations fit in to the wider marketing mix?
PR is simply a part of the marketing mix, one of the tools we have at our disposal to get messages to the marketplace. As long as a brand has clearly identified what it is they want to say and who they want to say it to then it’s about identifying the right ways to take this to the audience. So PR therefore becomes just one of a number of channels to the market along with others such as paid advertising, events, digital etc. PR can be a very strong tool as from an audience’s point of view it is independent and unbiased.
8. KISS works across healthcare, science, technology, and FMCG. The stereotype is that scientists can’t communicate very well, is that true?
I don’t think that is true. But I do regularly see people so heavily immersed in a business that they are unable to see the wood for the trees. That is true of everyone from scientists to those in a consumer business. It can be really hard for people to take a step back and view the company from their audience’s point of view and that is a real benefit of working with an external agency.
9. More and more American companies are moving into the region. US companies have a reputation – deserved or otherwise – for maxing the power of the brand. Will they help local companies raise their game?
I think that more competition will help raise the game wherever it comes from. There are some outstanding examples of great branding and marketing by American companies, Apple, Google and Starbucks being obvious examples. They’re great at what they do and in addition have the advantage of being consumer brands targeting massive audiences so their reach and spend is big, and we all recognise them. However, there are some great examples of European brands doing great marketing as well, such as Ikea, Lego, BP, Virgin, just to name a few!
10. Finally, what drives you to continue working in marketing and advertising?
I’ve always believed that it doesn’t matter how complex, scientific or digital your company is, at the heart of our business is creativity. It’s incredible to watch a marketing brief turn into an idea that can really impact the marketplace and drive sales. Working with creative people every day, who are really passionate about what they do is always an exciting environment to be in. I’ve seen it change massively over the last 25 years and I can’t wait to see how it continues to develop in the future.