Claire Harrison Church, Category Business Director, Premier Foods

As Category Business Director, Claire is essentially a Commercial Director for about half of Premier Foods business and has responsibility for the full P&L

Tom Holmes

Founder & Chairman



Tom Holmes speaks to Claire Harrison Church, Category Business Director at Premier Foods.

As Category Business Director, Claire is essentially a Commercial Director for about half of Premier Foods business and has responsibility for the full P&L. She has a marketing team that reports into her, who develop advertising, new product development etc and she leads a cross functional team involving Factories, Finance, Sales and Technical Development. 

Prior to Premier Foods Claire was Brand Communications Director at Sainsbury’s where she oversaw the development and launch of the new positioning ‘Live Well for Less’, lead initiatives such as ‘Feed your Family for £50’ and the redesign of the complete own label range under ‘by Sainsbury’s’.

Claire started her career as a graduate trainee with Unilever and spent 15 years in a variety of senior marketing roles before moving into Food Service and becoming Marketing Director for KFC in UK& Ireland. From there Claire became Brand Communications Director at Boots and then Sainsbury’s.
Claire is a member of Women in Advertising and Communications Club (WACL) and sits on ISBA Council.

Claire is a Mentor of The Marketing Academy.


Creativebrief: As Category Business director what is your primary focus?

Claire Harrison Church: In April 2014 Premier Foods announced a transformational financial restructuring which now enables it to invest behind its iconic brands and be well set up to deliver long term shareholder value. So for me my primary focus is to ensure we are doing the right things to grow our brands both in the next 6 months and in the longer term, the next 3-5 years. We have many well loved brands that we need to modernise and make them relevant for today’s families. That involves developing advertising that will drive awareness and relevance and new product development that will enable our brands to be be used for new occasions.

Creativebrief: What key attributes must a CMO have to run a brand successfully, in this day and age?

Claire Harrison Church: More than ever a good CMO needs to ensure there is a clear Vision in place, that the consumer really is understood and that the marketing team (and our agency partners) have the support and confidence to back new ideas, new thinking. I say more than ever because I think it’s harder than ever to see the wood from the trees. There’s so much more going on, technology is changing consumers lives more quickly it’s important to ensure there’s good consumer understanding but also not just do lots of activity because it’s in vogue.

Creativebrief: Your career has spanned Premier Foods, Sainsbury’s, Alliance Boots, KFC Yum! Brands and Unilever what have been the high points?

Claire Harrison Church:  I’ve loved working in different industries. One of my first roles, in Unilever, was developing a natural contraceptive. Running focus groups with 30 year olds talking about sex was eye- opening ! I loved the customer service mania of YUM and KFC and am really proud of the ‘ Soul food’ campaign we developed with BBH. Then both Boots and Sainsbury’s really taught me the power of data, being able to use loyalty card data to really understand your customers and target offers, products, store formats accordingly. I had a huge sense of achievement when I first saw ‘Live Well for Less’ on my Sainsburys till receipt in 2011 and still do today. I said to my team at Premier just recently there has never been a more exciting time to be in Marketing – all the opportunities there are not just to continue to make great tv ads, but to engage with your consumers on social, to do more partnerships, design gorgeous packaging….the list goes on.

Creativebrief: Along the way, have there been individual marketers who particularly impressed and inspired you?

Claire Harrison Church: On reflection I think the most impressive people are those that are brave, that encourage you and others to make creative leaps. I think Simon Clift at Unilever did this and lead to some amazing work on Lynx/ AXE. And the bravest people are usually in your agencies – they push themselves and you to not accept mediocrity.

Creativebrief: What are the main challenges for your sector/category over the next 12 months?

Claire Harrison Church: UK Grocery market is very tough. Consumers continue to tighten their belts. So helping Mums deliver great meals for their families, within a budget, is our focus.

Creativebrief: As Premier Foods stepped up its marketing activity recently, which campaigns are you particularly proud of?

Claire Harrison Church: The teams have certainly been busy in the last year launching new products like Ambrosia Devon Dream and advertising most of our power brands including Bisto, Oxo, Batchelors. There is a lot of good work and what’s impressive is that many of those brands haven’t been properly advertised for quite a few years. We went back on TV with Ambrosia custard, for the first time in 12 years. So developing work on brands that are iconic but haven’t been engaging with their consumers is quite a daunting task.

Creativebrief: How do you see the media landscape unfolding in the next 5 years?

Claire Harrison Church: I’d like to think that in 5 years time consumers will be relying even more on their own networks for advice/ recommendations on products and services to counter-balance the unmanageable level of communications they will be able to receive. Alongside all of this they will be watching tv ads that are more about entertainment than about selling. So that with all of this brands that develop strong marketing will be in a better place.

Creativebrief: Do you prefer to use an ‘integrated’ agency approach or specialist agencies by individual discipline?

Claire Harrison Church: I love the idea of an integrated agency approach ( why would anyone not ?) however you as the brand owner need to ensure that you get the best thinking and ideas for each discipline. So more often than not that means specialist agencies. There’s a need for pragmatism in all of this. My biggest angst is walking into a meeting where there are 25 people from your various agencies.

Creativebrief: When choosing agencies were you ever influenced by awards?

Claire Harrison Church: Yes to a degree. Awards help the agency and the work get noticed/ talked about so they can help get an agency onto your radar and a short list. I am a fan of Awards, I think it’s great for the agency and the client when they win them, its great for people to get recognition from within their peer group.

Creativebrief: What challenges do you face, managing day-to-day agency relationships?

Claire Harrison Church: As I said its usually how you avoid ending up with 25 (agency) people being in a room for a review meeting. Great cross agency working is the same with any cross functional working – people need to have formed good relationships, they need to know each other be able to trust each other. And all of that takes time.

Creativebrief: How often do you look at new agencies or review your roster?

Claire Harrison Church: Whenever it makes sense to and actually I prefer not too. It takes time to build relationships and most of the time our agency partners are incredibly good so when there is an issue you would hope you can work on it together.

Creativebrief: How do you monitor and stay-in-touch with the agency market to ensure you work with the best?

Claire Harrison Church: I read the trade press, I talk regularly to my peer group. And I do watch people moves as its the people who make the agency.

Creativebrief: What’s your attitude to the ‘traditional’ pitch? Do you think there is a better/more modern way?

Claire Harrison Church: I’ve been involved in creative, media and digital pitches and they’ve all been run really well so I’m not sure there is a better/more modern way. That said I also think its good to challenge the norm so if there is I’d love to know about it and understand it. And maybe there’s a better way for the agencies. It’s easy to sit as a client and think its all great, I’m well aware of the time, resource and stress that goes into pitches.

Creativebrief: Would you ever consider awarding an agency business without a pitch?

Claire Harrison Church: Yes, probably. If I was really really sure of what I needed and knew exactly the best people to do it then yes. Why would I waste mine and others time. But I’d say its fairly unlikely I’d be that sure of exactly what was needed and that’s why pitches are so good. Other smarter people than you often look at the problem in a very different way to you and great marketers are people who want to hear what other people think.

Creativebrief: What would they have to do / demonstrate?

Claire Harrison Church: They’d need to present work that you then were confident would deliver for your brand.

Tom Holmes speaks to Claire Harrison Church