Thomas Sproule – Senior Brand Manager @ Sara Lee

1. Before we dive into your role at Sara Lee, what has your career journey looked like so far?

For the past 5 years I’ve worked in the FMCG space. Starting out as an intern at Johnson & Johnson, then joining Nestle in their Next Gen Graduate Program spending time across sales, category and marketing. Before becoming a brand manager in the Dairy team – working with brands such as MILO and Nesquik. And now I am the Senior Brand Manager for Sara Lee.

2. Transitioning into work, what the heck does a Senior Brand Manager @ Sara Lee do?

What is Sara Lee?

We’re a familiar dessert and ice cream brand that’s locally produced in the Central Coast. You’ll often see our famous French Vanilla Cheesecake and Homestyle Apple Pie stocked in your local Woolies or Coles.

There are a myriad of teams internally such as the brand/marketing, sales, supply chain, finance and research and development (who we work closely with).

How is the brand function structured?

Sara Lee operates on quite a lean team. Unlike larger FMCG companies we don’t have a dedicated brand manager for each brand as Sara Lee only operates by itself at the moment. As such, the marketing and brand teams consist of:

  • Myself: focusing on product innovation, comms, media and long term brand strategy 
  • A marketing manager who works closely with me on comms, media but focuses on building our long term brand strategy 
  • A project manager ensuring cross-functional teams execute on innovation projects AND
  • Another brand manager focusing on packaging 

What does your role entail?

As a Senior Brand Manager my work is mostly concerned with long term strategy. Key areas of focus include: 

  • Brand planning and strategy: developing the 2-5 year strategy for the Sara Lee brand
  • Working with advertising agencies: putting together long term comms and media strategy and assisting with short term execution (eg: creative)
  • Product innovation: pulling cross-functional teams together for projects alongside the project manager, determining what new products Sara Lee should make

But by far the best part of the role is doing the product tastings. If I’d told my 10 year old self that I’d be tasting chocolate ice cream for a living I think I’d be pretty happy.

3. What’s an example of a campaign that you’ve worked on and what was your role in bringing it to life?

In October 2021 we launched our Dairy Milk Chocolate Fudge Cake under our license agreement with Cadbury.

What was your role?

Working from start to finish on bringing this product to market, specific steps included:

  1. Analysing consumer insights to come up with the product idea, the Dairy Milk Chocolate Fudge Cake
  2. Developing product briefs to help the R&D team make the actual product
    1. Testing, tasting and developing a criteria for what the product contains to solve the consumer insight/problem identified in the previous step
  3. Writing briefs and finalising designs with the agencies for product packaging, information and copy
  4. Activation plans (traditional marketing activities) to ensure new consumers are aware and are enticed to try the new product

Throughout this process we’re always workshopping the business plan. Answering question such as: 

  • Why are we making the product (eg: target new markets, objectives such as bringing new consumers to the freezer)
  • How are we making money from the product?

4. What do the entry level pathways for aspiring FMCG Brand Managers look like?

Obvious pathways are the internship and graduate programs at companies such as Reckitt-Benckiser, Unilever, P&G and Nestle. There are other roles such as marketing assistants or assistant brand managers as well to help get your foot in the door.

Alternatively, FMCG companies also work with their own suite of media, creative, research and packaging agencies. Another pathway would be getting a role in one of these companies that works specifically with large FMCG brands to get an alternate, agency perspective. Some agencies that I’ve worked with previously include: Ogilvy, The Works, BrandOpus and The Key Branding to name a few.

5. What’s one thing you recommend an aspiring FMCG Brand Manager do right now?

Stay curious. Keep up to date with what FMCG brands are doing and think about why they’re doing it (eg: a specific product release to bring new customers in, premiumise the brand etc..). It’ll help you learn if FMCG is something for you and gets you further in the job application process.

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