People to Watch 2019: Sara Brown
Company: Ferrara Candy Co.
Title: Director, Media, Licensing & Partnership
Education: University of Missouri (bachelor’s, journalism, strategic communication)
Sara Brown joined Ferrara Candy just over a year ago, at a time when the company was making a lot of changes within its marketing department. Her background was on the agency side, having worked in PR first and then gaining experience with the earliest advertising opportunities on Facebook. She then moved into digital capacities, most recently on the Ferrara business partnering with Jill Manchester, its global marketing leader.
“She sold me on the vision of the team she was building as well as the company, which was growing quickly with the Nestle acquisition and just recently the Kellogg’s acquisition,” Brown says. Part of the now full team of functional area experts that are helping to drive the growth of the company and work with its brand marketers to build their businesses, she serves as the director of media, licensing and partnership.
Brown sees a continued convergence of shopper marketing and digital, which changes the way she goes about her work every day. It’s easy to distill media down to numbers, but a lot can be lost in that translation, she says. “Today’s landscape is very complex and many different tactics that were once separate are now performing the same functions or crossing over.”
Her training in storytelling as a journalism major at the University of Missouri has proven to be extremely helpful when explaining what can often be a complex and fragmented media landscape. It’s a key way to not only help explain what the role of media is, she notes, but also when it comes to selling in recommendations, communicating the importance of utilizing new digital platforms and leveraging new types of targeting and opportunities in the shopper space.
The goal now is to drive Ferrara’s national shopper strategy and incorporate brand programs that can be customized for certain retailers while still maintaining the same consistent brand messaging and brand presence across all of its programs. “Our approach is more unified. We’re making sure we have consistency across our different channels and taking that more high-level, national, holistic approach to shopper marketing,” Brown says.
Today, she oversees the paid media strategy and investments for 26 sugar and four cookie brands in the company’s portfolio, in addition to leading marketing partnership strategy and execution. She points to the company’s partnership for the release of “Deadpool 2” with its Trolli brand last summer, which included the creation of a custom product, an entirely rebranded website, and an activation in New York’s Times Square with images on one of the billboards to showcase consumers interacting with its products. “There were media elements to it, but it went through to commercializing a brand new product and rebranding our website – things that go above and beyond media,” she says.
What she’s most proud of, though, is the team’s ability to outsmart the competition and work quickly to take advantage of opportunities. Her team prides itself on being more nimble than many of its peers, which was best showcased when the company’s sales team came to them with the challenge of ensuring success for a key promotion on Black Forest.
“The offer was on one of our largest formats, and driving volume in a short time period was key to ensuring the customer would continue supporting the product after the promotional period,” she says. The team worked with its digital agency to estimate a media budget, write custom copy, craft a target audience profile based on retail locations and shopper behavior, and deploy the campaign, all in a matter of three days. “After launch, we saw velocities on the featured product increase in every targeted market, unlocking long-term success for Black Forest with a key customer,” Brown reports, adding that internally, the partnership between the marketing and sales organizations has shown very positive growth.
Yet this space has its challenges. The constant media disruption driven by rapidly evolving digital platforms and all the pitfalls that can come with it are top of mind for Brown every day. “We have to keep up with our consumers and where they’re engaging, or our brands will be left in the dark ages,” she says. “But there are always inherent risks with being an early adopter, so we have to learn how to balance the risks while staying up with the trends and where consumers are interacting.”