Thought Leadership

Making work that matters

Claire Sadler, Chief Marketing and Fundraising Officer at the British Heart Foundation on spearheading transformation and making work that matters.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director Creativebrief


“It’s actually been especially tough over the last year or so, hasn’t it? Especially when you don’t always have the opportunities these days to work face-to-face with people for extended periods.”

Claire Sadler, Chief Marketing and Fundraising Officer at the British Heart Foundation, is bringing her trademark honesty to arguably one of the most challenging issues of the day for forward thinking industry leaders: staff morale. She continues: “Morale and confidence are challenging issues not just for the marketing and advertising industries but for the nation’s workforce as a whole.”

One of the most worrying trends to emerge from a post-Covid world is evidenced in the growing mountain of data pointing to a workforce in a state of overwhelm. A trend which Deloitte’s [email protected] report reveals is disproportionately impacting women. According to their research, almost half (46%) of working women feel burned out. 

Sadler is not a marketing leader who sits on the fence, or that simply admires the problem without contributing to finding solutions. Notably, as a member of WACL (Women in Advertising and Communications London) she has spearheaded events and initiatives to support women progress in their careers. It is a cause she is passionate about. “It doesn’t help when the UK government recently rejected a menopause leave trial, saying that introducing legislation might ‘inadvertently create news forms of discrimination against men’.  Whereas I believe that having menopause policies might be a way of keeping vast numbers of talented and experienced women in their jobs,” she explains. 

I believe that having menopause policies might be a way of keeping vast numbers of talented and experienced women in their jobs.

Claire Sadler, Chief Marketing and Fundraising Officer at the British Heart Foundation

Flexible first futures

So how can we collectively address this creative crisis of confidence and stop the talent drain? “The importance of all sorts of mentoring and inclusivity initiatives can’t be over-emphasised and I’m always encouraging as many people as possible to get involved,” says Sadler.

She is also passionate about grasping the opportunity presented by this once in a generation opportunity to reshape the workplace for the better. She explains: “The bottom line is that we all must learn to be a lot more flexible. Flexible not just in terms of the nuts and bolts of how the workplace is organised and our working patterns but compassionate and flexible in our attitudes and behaviours too.”

It's a compassion which has guided her career. Sadler joined the British Heart Foundation as Chief Marketing and Fundraising Officer in 2021 with a brief to reboot the brand and rebuild its income which had taken a hit during the lockdowns of 2020.

With a career spanning agency and client-side, Sadler spent her early years at Proximity London. She later spent 13 years at BT, rising to Group Brand Director, before joining Direct Line, where she was Marketing Director. In late 2021 she won Campaign magazine’s Breakthrough CMO of the Year award, was cited as one of the Top Ten CMOs in the UK and secured a place on the Marketing Academy Fellowship which gives exceptional marketing leaders a board level development opportunity. Yet, what is equally clear is she is only just getting started. 

The bottom line is that we all must learn to be a lot more flexible. Flexible not just in terms of the nuts and bolts of how the workplace is organised and our working patterns but compassionate and flexible in our attitudes and behaviours too.

Claire Sadler, Chief Marketing and Fundraising Officer at the British Heart Foundation

Collaboration in a crisis

Her accolades are a reflection of her commitment to growth even in the midst of the worst moments of the Coronavirus crisis. Hugh Cameron, Chairman, PHD UK, explained: “Claire stepped into her role during the 2021 lockdown, a challenging time for us all, let alone the BHF, which had recently restructured. Claire embodies what some might call radical openness or candour. But if that may sound aggressive or demanding on paper, in real life Claire makes it warm, honest, and direct.”

Cameron believes that purpose is at the heart of Sadler's success. He says: “Her leadership style brought clarity and ambition to the BHF team, uniting marketing around a new purpose. For agencies, Claire embodies true partnership, sharing issues, data, and crucially making time for us to learn quickly as our remit widens. For example, her approach nurtured the conditions for success that enabled Saatchi’s, PHD and ITV to move swiftly and respond to Christian Ericksen’s cardiac arrest at the Euros and create The Ad We Never Expected To Make, a piece of work that embodied collaboration under the most intense circumstances. It’s a spirit that has continued since, as the BHF builds up on its new brand approach.” 

Sadler is clear sighted on the challenges of the current climate; challenges which she believes impact everyone. “To deliver successful outcomes in which you believe passionately, you’re inevitably going to encounter stresses of one sort or another – and the period of Covid lockdowns and their aftermath have really put all of that into a new perspective,” she says.

Rising by lifting others

While it's obvious that Sadler has a genuine reluctance to stand in the limelight, she clearly understands the importance of standing up both for her industry and for female leaders at large. “I believe strongly in marketing as a driver of business growth and the influence we have as marketers to drive change, striving for a more equal and diverse world,” she explains. 

As 2023 sees WACL celebrate its 100th anniversary, Sadler is eloquent in her belief in the organisation's goals for accelerating gender equality within the advertising and marketing industry. She explains: “I’m an enthusiastic participant in WACL’s mentoring scheme – dedicating time every month to mentoring young women in the UK advertising and communications industry, as well as opening the scheme up to women within the British Heart Foundation. As is often the case when we help others, giving my time in this way I find energising and rewarding, and I often get as much out of it as the mentee.”

At the BHF, she has also used friends and network to match-make some of the team with mentees, which is a helpful way of bringing external thinking into the organisation. She urges young talent to look at the WACL mentoring programme. “It gives you four, one hour mentoring sessions with some of the most brilliant, wise and experienced women in our industry,” she notes. She also urges people to look beyond the job title and the role when they are seeking new opportunities and also focus on who they will be working with. In a people-focused industry, it will be the people, as well as the position which will propel you forward.

Building resilience as a leader

Sadler notes that she has always been conscious of the fact that “women are often confronted by an extra layer of challenges relating to, say, working in a male-dominated environment or childcare, family commitments and work-life balance. That’s why I’m so passionate about the various gender equality initiatives being pursued by Women in Advertising and Communications Leadership (WACL).”

Opening up on her own challenges in the workplace - from bullying to managing the sad death of a team member, Sadler believes that difficult situations help shape you as a leader.

“I’ve been exceptionally fortunate to have worked with talented and generous people at all stages of my career. They have certainly helped me develop as a person as well as a marketer – and it’s made me especially keen, as a leader, however many years on, to do my best in encouraging and mentoring new talent coming through,” she explains.

Championing change

Championing change and transformation has been core to Sadler’s approach to building a purpose-driven team. She explains: “The challenge I took on when I arrived was to deliver a transformation and turnaround and make the British Heart Foundation matter more to more people, to drive income recovery and growth,” she says.

The BHF is the UK’s largest independent funder of cardiovascular research, with £450m of live research in progress – and over the years has been involved many pieces of ground-breaking cardiovascular research, from the first heart transplant to stent and statins – now all well-known treatments. However, according to Sadler half of the British public didn’t even know the organisation funded research at all. 

“We had a strong visual identity but lacked a crisp brand strategy and positioning – resulting in multiple tactical campaigns and fundraising activities that didn’t add up to a sum greater than its parts,” she explains.  

When Sadler arrived, the marketing team and the fundraising team - previously two separate entities, led by two separate executive directors, had been brought together into one team.  “There were several agencies buying media and multiple creative agencies producing work across different brand and fundraising communications. Lack of integration and collaboration was hampering effectiveness,” she explains.

Having identified the challenges, she quickly initiated and completed a pitch process, consolidating agencies and streamlining costs. A process which led to the appointment of single lead media and creative agencies; PHD Media and Saatchi & Saatchi respectively.  Sadler credits this process with helping the brand to build stronger partnership relationships with its agencies, as well as delivering better, more effective integrated campaign activity. 

She explains: “A refreshed brand model and brand promise; ‘together, we power science that saves lives’ – provides a clear vision, and a springboard to put the science (our research) and action more firmly at the centre of our brand and fundraising marketing communications.”

According to Sadler, this move has allowed the brand to deliver more integrated brand and fundraising campaign moments either by creating its own, like Heart Month in February or maximising seasonal opportunities, like Christmas. “These integrated moments, along with a clear plan on a page, have helped galvanise the team around shared objectives. And in turn, deliver our bigger-picture goals – of successfully recovering and growing income to fund research and support those living with heart conditions,” she adds.

The power of a shared purpose

Let’s be honest, galvanising a team around a shared purpose is easier on paper than it is in practice. Yet Sarah Jenkins, Managing Director at Saatchi & Saatchi London credits Sadler for her radical simplicity and focus on craft. 

She explains: “When working with Claire you know she will take the complex and make it simple, take multiple layers and multiple audiences and bring synergy, take proof and learning and fuel fresh thinking.”

It’s a fresh thinking that is not only crucial to driving those ever-elusive cultures of creativity and curiosity, but that according to Jenkins is vital to creating work that makes a difference. She adds: “Claire starts every project in pursuit of ground-breaking work, is able to push the creative output without breaking the strategy and all, always, in pursuit of impact for the BHF.”

When you couple that pursuit of impact with Sadler’s commitment to making a positive impact on the industry at large it is easy to see why this thoroughly modern marketer’s star is in the ascendancy.