St Luke's KP Final P

Creative Partnerships

KP Is Going Nuts For Its Creative Partners

KP Snacks marketing director Kevin McNair and St Luke's MD Ed Palmer and joint CCO Rich Denney talk about their five-year creative partnership

By Dani Gibson

For the KP Snacks and St Luke's crews, five years are a mere blip on the timeline of their whirlwind partnership.

It was a pivotal moment for Kevin McNair, the freshly minted marketing director, who had only joined KP Snacks from Britvic just six months prior when deciding the creative agency's appointment.

The Slough-based company, owned by Intersnack Group, was riding high on its recent acquisitions of brands including Butterkist, Popchips, and Tyrrells.

McNair inherited 200 agencies, he claims, not all creative agencies but too many for the size of the business to justify. There was a need for consolidation, as well as an internal restructure to become a brand-led organisation.

Reflecting on this period of expansion, McNair acknowledges the indispensable role played by the chosen agency, St Luke's, in navigating the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead.

"Among all the agencies, St Luke's stood out for already having a deep understanding of our industry and the specific brands we wanted to discuss with them, even before receiving the brief," McNair remarks. "This level of insight impressed us. It made us consider whether they genuinely desired our business, considering their impressive track record and the calibre of individuals within their organisation."

Echoing those sentiments while emphasizing the agency's familiarity with the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector, Ed Palmer, managing director at St Luke's, adds: "It felt like familiar territory for us."

The acquisition of Tyrrells posed a significant challenge for KP Snacks. Despite its potential, Tyrrells was not perceived as a premium hand-cooked crisp, leading to financial losses. "Essentially, we had inherited a brand with potential but needed to recalibrate its positioning and pricing strategy to reflect its true value. That was our primary challenge," McNair explains.

Challenge accepted, leading to the launch the brand platform "Tyrrellbly, Tyrrellbly Tasty," and a creative that parodied old-style black and white news reports.

More than five years later, Tyrrell's continues to strengthen. So much so that St Luke's has added additional KP brands to its roster.

"The initial brief for Tyrrell's was 'If you win this, we'll bring Popchips and KP into the fold," McNair explains.

"A classic supermarket, buy one get two free," Palmer laughs, following up.

The partnership faced the challenges of its first year head-on when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Marketing plans hit a snag, with only food-related endeavors spared. McNair acted as a liaison between the agency and ever-shifting government regulations, ensuring clarity prevailed.

"We were getting a lot of information on what was going on with FMCG consumer behaviour, and customer retail environment," he explains. "Given that Ed and the team are servicing and managing relationships with so many other brands, and companies, I felt that I would pass on the information that I had to help them hopefully, be better informed to help them be better supporters of the other relationships and clients that they had within their business."

And that had always been a two-way street. McNair recalls how he and Palmer had discussed strategies for navigating the post-COVID creative landscape, including initiatives to reintegrate employees into office settings. These conversations were emblematic of their shared collaborative spirit.

Creative Salon sat down with McNair and Palmer, along with joint CCO Richard Denney to explore their partnership and how it's holding strong.

How did the relationship come about? Walk us through the pitch process.

Kevin McNair: We tasked Creative Brief with providing us with an overall assessment of the agencies that could potentially be a good fit for us to meet. It's crucial to evaluate the agencies' creative excellence and output, but it's equally important that their approach aligns with ours and fits well with my team's philosophy. So Creative Brief compiled a comprehensive long list. After reviewing some of the work and profiles, we narrowed it down to a shortlist and met with Ed, Richard, and a couple of others from St Luke’s.

What caught our attention about St Luke's was how well their identity as an agency aligned with our brand. Both of us embrace the challenger brand mentality, opting for a David vs. Goliath approach despite the presence of larger competitors. And their track record of delivering exceptional work for clients was a significant factor.

Ed Palmer: KP brands are simply fantastic, the kind of brands you grew up with as a kid. They're a brilliant mix of staples, some classic, some newer, and they immediately caught our interest. As an agency, we've got a solid track record in FMCG over the years, so it felt like home turf. But what really got us excited was the pitch process itself. It outlined how the relationship could evolve over time, even though we hadn't been appointed yet.

Kevin and the team went all out. They invited us over to Herefordshire, the home of Tyrrells, and gave us a fantastic brand induction. We got the full old-fashioned factory tour, which some might see as just a bit of theatre, but it genuinely gave us a deep understanding of the brand and the business. What we learned during that visit still informs our work today, and Kevin's passion for Tyrrells and the other KP brands was infectious. Standing at the production line, seeing freshly made Tyrrells still warm from the oven, was an experience like no other.

Richard Denney: It might sound cliché, but for me, it's about the people. From the get-go, it felt like they [KP Snacks] not only grasped us as a team but as individuals too, and there was an instant connection. Sure, there'll be highs and lows ahead, but knowing we're in it together, supporting each other through thick and thin, that's what really got me fired up about this opportunity.

What clinched the deal?

McNair: We chatted a bit about our portfolio goals and outlined the guardrails for Tyrrells. In the follow-up meeting, they really grasped those points and built upon them. They never delved into why those objectives mattered; instead, they focused on the importance of the relationship. If you were a fly on the wall in all our intro meetings, you'd notice St. Luke's using "us" and "we" more than "I" and "me" when talking about the agency, which I found quite telling. Some other agencies would go on about why they were indispensable, parading their creatives like they were divine beings. But we were after a touch of humility, and I felt that vibe from St. Luke's.

Palmer: It goes back to the DNA of St. Luke's origins where we always emphasised the focus of the brand. When St Luke's started we had brand rooms for every one of the clients and that was symbolically important because the brand was the focus, not the departments or the disciplines or the agencies. We all got together to gang up on the problem.

We added a touch of theater to our final pitch presentation by dressing up in period-appropriate Tyrrell’s costumes and donned cloth caps and plus fours, and so on.

Denney: Pathe style all over the reception, we had makeup artists doing everyone's hair, and that was brilliant [see main image.] We had a big dressing-up box, and when the KP team walked in they all dived straight in. That's when you know that a relationship is going to be fun and brilliant.

In the early stages, what were the challenges?

McNair: Often in pitches, the creative executions miss the mark. Do the planning team truly grasp our goals? But we found an agency whose work closely aligns with our strategy and execution. This was quite unique, because the work that was presented, both on the creative tissue session, and then the final piece is really close to what we do today.

Teething issues included budget constraints and aligning team focus. Surprisingly, no conflicts arose between the teams. We'll never get it right all the time but I aim to cultivate a learning environment within my team, allowing us to adapt quickly. Insights from Dan [Winslet], my ROI team, and the brand team helped us refine our approach. Challenges persisted, like achieving awareness without driving conviction, but we addressed them through course correction and forward momentum.

Palmer: The one major challenge in the first year was Covid. Nine months into the relationship. But what really speaks to our relationship more broadly, was that it was such a strange time. But Kevin really took the time to guide us as an agency, through this strange new world, and help us to understand what it meant for his category and for grocery more broadly.

Denney: The first time we were allowed back out after Covid, production wasn't happening in the UK, so we shot Popchips in Budapest. It was surreal because everything was remote. We signed up Molly Manners at Biscuit Filmworks to direct. We had a lockdown area that we tested every day. You were only allowed to have so many people on the shoot; the client team was all basically on Zoom 24/7. We were going through these shower tents to be sprayed down. Even on the set in the room, you were never allowed to take your masks off. Every take, we had the team on Zoom seeing it remotely. The playback was all remote. Essentially trust came into play, everyone was up for it and wanting to do it. And because of the nature of all being locked away, we all wanted to make it happen. And it worked.

What has maintained the relationship over the last five years?

McNair: You wouldn't know who client or agency is in a room. We're firmly one team working on firstly, a business opportunity or challenge, which then we figure out how we're going to solve creatively. Building that relationship that was definitely at the start, having similar kinds of values and behaviours within our organisations. Going through things like COVID, etc. You build relationships, going through those tough times as well. In those moments, you really do start to get a feel for who's not just creating a relationship for the sake of creating a relationship because it's a business transaction, to one that's just based on trust.

Palmer: There's never been a time when we've just glanced at a creative brief during a briefing; we've always been part of its inception. We've consistently had a seat at the table on the business level, comprehending the broader context of what the brand aims to accomplish within the portfolio and category.

And that makes for a better result at the end of it, because ultimately, the brief is only as good as the ability to act creatively. And if we're there, all the way along understanding, contributing, it's much more collaborative, but more importantly, it's going to make for a better result at the end of it. And that's always been the way that we've worked together.

What has been your favourite campaigns to work on?

Denney: Tyrrell's is a standout because of our shared success—it's where it all began. What truly excites me about that campaign is witnessing more and more people with Tyrrell's in hand. Every time I see a new creative, I know it has staying power. There's room for it to grow and evolve, making it truly unique. From social to TV, it works at every touchpoint.

If anyone in St Luke's has a great idea for one of our brands, and we think it's great enough, then we'll put it in front of the team. But a great example is Butterkist. That was a great pitch to work on. It is the nation's favourite popcorn. It didn't get the lion's share of the marketing budget but together we proved that we have something distinct and ownable as 'Go grab the Butterkist.'

One thing we've always aimed for is showcasing those little social bits that truly embody the essence of entertainment. After all, all these brands should be entertaining—they're snacks, crisps, and popcorn. It's a missing element on TV. Then thanks to Boris, 'PartyGate'was born. It was so bloody good. We worked with the Red PR team and Starcom, demonstrating our united front. And then, we shared it with Kevin and the KP team.

One thing we've always aimed for is showcasing those little social bits that truly embody the essence of entertainment. After all, all these brands should be entertaining—they're snacks, crisps, and popcorn. It's a missing element on TV. Then came the shower moment, the idea for 'PartyGate'. It was electrifying. We worked with the Red PR team and Starcom, demonstrating our united front. And then, we shared it with Kevin and the KP team.

In just 48 hours, reaching 86 million impressions and featuring in 12 titles was quite the feat. We kept the momentum going, exploring other opportunities like WagathaChristie. The creative team initially proposed a courtroom drawing for Ed Sheeran, but it wasn't quite the right fit. However, when our account manager suggested Wagatha, it clicked with the courtroom drawing concept. We swiftly mobilized media partners and PR, presenting a united front.

For a popcorn brand to step out and entertain, like with our giant microwave billboards, it's truly something special.

Let's talk about the KP brands St Luke's handles: Popchips, Tyrrells, KP Nuts, Butterkist, and Space Invaders. What consistency do you maintain across them?

McNair: From an audience perspective, snacks are a very blurred world. And we follow the Byron Sharp principles there in both paths of all like category buyers. They've got different occasions. Someone who's having, let's say, Tyrrell's for an evening socialising occasion is different to having Butterkist with their family on a Saturday over a movie.

One benefit with the team at St. Luke's is that they are looking at it through the lens of portfolio. St. Luke's are creating those very clear, distinct iconic brands with Tyrrell's, Butterkist, Popchips, KP, etc. They've all got their own worlds which is so critical.

Denney: During the Space Raiders conversation, we were chatting with some of the team that worked on those brands, and we came away thinking, "We've got Jules who does filters and everything, why can't we do something on that?" So, let's come up with some filters and have some fun with it. I've talked to a lot of creative directors since we've worked on things like Butterkist, and they work on big-budget projects like Pringles and stuff. A lot of the work we're doing is getting referenced in their meetings. And we know with Kevin and the team, if we don't get it right, we can look and see what we can do, and how we can improve. Or what do we do with the brief to reshape it?

I've worked with clients before, where I've said, "Look, we've still got a few weeks, right? I want to just keep going and just sharpen the line." They've responded, "Why would you do that? That's a waste of my time." That's pretty negative, to be honest, whereas I've thought, "No, no, no, we're going to do more, we're going to sharpen it, we're going to see what we can do. We've got this little bit of time, we've got the idea." I think together, the best things come when you work together and you can grow them together. Of course, you've got budgets, and you've got to sign off. But if you want to put a bit more effort in and sharpen it and shape it into something special, the best [concepts] have the space to do that. And that's a partnership, rather than a manufactured process.

Palmer: To have your house of brands, they should all look and feel different but have a consistent approach. We know what the key beliefs are. And Kevin and the team have never deviated from that. It's not something that we're a slave to collectively. But it's a consistent starting point, a consistent intellectual framework that we know that that's where we start. Then we can start to plot where these brands go with a kind of common language. It's brilliantly run and KP as a whole has been growing share as a result. We're really proud to be part of that growth.


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