Profile: Bruce Burnett, managing director, i2i Face to Face Marketing

Bruce Burnett made his name in the confectionery business before founding the experiential marketing agency i2i. Lorraine Francisco finds out why the man who made Smarties cool is such a hands-on boss and how he gets the best out of his staff.

It was while Bruce Burnett was group marketing manager for Nestle Rowntree that he and his team devised the concept of 'cool dude' Smarties.

Certainly not your everyday marketing project, but one that helped relaunch Smarties as a contemporary youth brand in the early 1990s.

For Burnett, now managing director of agency i2i Face to Face Marketing, the Smarties project stands out as a career highlight. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s he held various positions of responsibility within the confectionery industry, first in sales and marketing at Nestle Rowntree, where he was promoted to group marketing manager in 1989, and then as marketing director of the Trebor Bassett Group, now known as Cadbury Trebor Bassett, from 1991-97.

Other prominent projects during this period included introducing the concept of 'family bags' - now a huge market in confectionery - and the relaunch of Maynards Wine Gums.

But while acknowledging his formidable track record in selling sweets to the great British public, Burnett says that his biggest achievement to date has been the creation of his 'consumer activation' agency i2i five years ago.

Having originally spotted the potential of experiential marketing - then known as sampling or field marketing - during his days in confectionery, Burnett now employs 22 full-time staff with 3,500 part-time, and last year his agency reported a £5m turnover.

"When I was at the Trebor Bassett Group we looked to see if we could make it more of an experience, make it more exciting and not to just give out samples," he explains.

"So when we set up i2i we decided to concentrate on brand experience and make brand sampling work very hard, so that everything we'd do would be driven by looking through the clients' eyes."

Since then, i2i has worked with such prominent brands as Arla Foods, Kelloggs, Del Monte and Motorola. Recent campaigns include collaborating with Cafe Met on its summer roadshow and putting together the Anchor Lighter Spreadable roadshow for Arla Foods in May 2005.

In August, i2i launched its in-house staffing division as a stand-alone agency called i2i Faces. Burnett is quick to emphasise the importance of professionalism among his staff and, rather than taking people on who are simply between jobs, says i2i hires on the basis of candidates' enthusiasm and interest in the position they're applying for.

He also keeps track of staff's progress through a real-time intranet system that allows them to record their day's work, and runs a points system ensuring that employees maintain a high level of competence to enable them to continue sampling.

A further benefit of this hands-on approach is that clients can see instantly how a campaign is doing and can determine which areas need to be improved.

And despite the happy distractions of a new daughter this past year, Burnett's enthusiasm for his work shows no sign of any let-up.

Last year he drove 80,000 miles in his Audi A6, attending campaigns, and says: "I spent two days at the Good Food Show working with a client in the kitchen making food samples. It was bloody horrible, but it gave me a chance to see which design elements could be improved, and check if the staff are being interactive."

The biggest problem with sampling is security, he says. "We've got great big vehicles with x brand and people think there must be loads of free stuff in it, so you have to go to great lengths to ensure everything stays secure. Some people steal whole generators." It seems like an odd image, but it's not something he plans to let disrupt the smooth running of his business.

BURNETT ON ...

How views about sampling have changed ... "Advertising was a very powerful entity, it ruled the roost, really. Budgets were very defined: that's going to advertising, that's going to promotion, and sampling was a real bolt-on, it was not even on the agenda. Now it's seen as much more a part of the marketing mix."

The most unique venues he's sampled in ... "We did a campaign with Plymouth Gin in a number of garden centres, and it was incredibly effective. Targeting was absolutely perfect, people had the time and were in a positive mindset. Another was during the Douwe Egberts Senseo coffee pods campaign last Christmas when we recreated a mini coffee shop in a Harrods window."

The Live Brand Experience Association ... "It has to find a real role for itself in terms of what it stands for and what it can achieve. At the time a lot of the benefits were 'let's share all our research', the research I've spent thousands and thousands on creating methodology for other companies. It's not worth it. There are some good things about trade bodies, but if they're not really achieving something, they just become talking shops. But we'll keep an eye on it."


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