The freshly baked smell of success

As professional communicators there are a number of bread-and-butter issues that most of us encounter at some point in our career that help us earn our crust: change comms, introducing new channels, exit plans for CEOs and launching new visions, values or brands. I’m going to stop with bread puns now, but read on to find out why they’ve been appearing…

Last year I met Andrea Law, Internal Comms Manager at Warburtons at the Institute of Internal Comms (IoIC) annual conference in Bournemouth, UK. Warburtons is the second biggest grocery brand in the UK based on sales, after Coca Cola. It specialises in the production of a number of bakery products including wax wrapped loaves, wraps, gluten free, wholemeal products, crumpets (my favourite), pancakes and bread rolls, among many others.

The company was founded by Thomas and Ellen Warburton in 1876 in Bolton, Lancashire. It employees 4500 employees in 13 different bakeries and 13 depots across the UK and produces two million bakery products each day. It is well known for still being run by its family members, the Warburton family.

Andrea and I are both members of Melcrum’s Communicators Network and last week she shared with the network some of the lessons she learnt when launching a new vision and set of refreshed values at the same time as a brand refresh.

I thought it would be good to highlight the work that Warburtons has done on my blog and Andrea has kindly agreed to let me do so. I believe that sharing tips and advice among comms pros is a good thing to do and think that Warburtons campaign is a comprehensive and interesting one. As ever, if you come across something you think other comms pros would benefit from reading about, do get in touch with me: with your ideas.

What was the challenge?
Warburtons decided to launch a new Vision and set of refreshed values at the same time as their brand refresh.

To refresh the values and reduce the number significantly (down from 13), Executive Director Brett Warburton (pictured) went on a tour of the business talking to teams of people at all levels of the organisation. He conducted one-to-one interviews with senior business leaders, including members of his own family, and then toured the business conducting a series of focus groups in a variety of locations.The feedback from the focus groups was worked through and a first set of values was created.

Focusing on the people
Andrea says: “Two further focus groups were conducted by Brett Warburton, involving a mix of the same people who took part in the first round of groups. The first version  of  the values that had been prepared for the sessions were shared with the  groups for their thoughts  and feedback and the sessions were filmed  with  additional  filming of  interviews with participants sharing their thoughts and, importantly, their stories as evidence for these values being part of Warburtons culture”.

The feedback from the second round of focus groups was used to refine the values further and all focus group attendees received a letter from Brett thanking them for their participation, a copy of the DVD and confirming the final and agreed set of values, which was to soon be shared with the rest of the business:  

  • Family
  • Quality
  • Care
  • Responsibility
  • and an important new addition – Ambition.

Alongside  the values  research,  Internal Comms was also working with their Business Management Board and the Warburton Family to create a new vision  for the organisation,  which  people  would  find  stretching and exciting: To be one of the world’s best family food businesses.

Choosing the right channel
Some existing channels of communication, as well as new ones, were used to launch the new Vision and Values. You can read about some of them below.

Breakfast Briefing
Warburtons  top  120  senior  managers  meet quarterly and the already scheduled October Breakfast Briefing was chosen as the ideal opportunity  for  the  launch. The film that had been produced for the launch kicked off  the presentation, followed by presentations from Chairman, Jonathan  Warburton, and the Managing Director. All delegates were provided with a take-away Managers’ Communication Pack.

Employee letters
Later that month Brett Warburton wrote to every Warburtons employee at home.  He outlined in his letter what the vision meant and why the Family needed everyone to be committed to and live the values. He talked about the up and coming State of the Nation presentation and that he hoped to see them at their site to present and explain the vision and values and answer any questions.  Enclosed  with the letter was a four-page  pamphlet outlining  the  strategy in brief, in-line with the updated  internal comms  narrative, together  with a  set of fold-out  ’business card  style’ leaflets  illustrating  and  detailing  the new  values.

State of the Nation
Warburtons Board conducts an annual State of the Nation tour of sites in October.  However, Internal  Comms and the Family  believed  it was critical that the Family communicated the Vision and Values, rather than the  Board, in order to give it the authority and substance it required. Therefore, the tour was moved to November and a Family member plus a Board member visited sites to deliver the Vision and Values presentation together.  

The rooms were dressed in advance with specially produced posters. The Family member showed the film and presented the vision and values  primary section of  the presentation, while the Board Director presented detail around the business strategy so that people understood the five  stage  plan of what they would do in the next twelve months to  start  the company on the journey. Everyone left the presentation with a set of postcards  and a copy  of the Success Factors (Warburtons’ behaviours) so that everyone understood  the set of behaviours expected of them and which would form an important part of the Performance Management process.

Values postcards
The values  postcards  handed  out  in  the  State  of  the Nation presentations, were  addressed  to  Jonathan and Brett Warburton, to be returned  telling them  where and how the company and people could be living the values better. Team Managers were briefed to use the postcards as the focus for team discussions about how everyone should all be living the values. Both individuals and teams returned postcards to the Family.

Andrea says: “We received great scores for recognition and understanding of the values in our Engagement Survey and our next phase, which we’re currently working on, is to recognise and reward people for living the values.  We’re hoping to launch this in the spring. This will have a continuous communications campaign around it to keep it alive”.

Thanks again to Andrea for giving me permission to write about the work at Warburtons for my blog. As ever, if you come across something you think other comms pros would benefit from reading about, do get in touch with me with your ideas.

Post author: Rachel Miller


  1. Jon Weedon says:

    Lovely case study Rachel, thanks for sharing. Love the pre-addressed post card idea. Lots of nice tangible activities, perfect for a company like Warburtons.

  2. Rachel Miller says:

    Thanks Jon, I’m glad you enjoyed reading it. Can’t beat a good case study with ideas and hints others can adapt and adopt. Hope all is well with you.

  3. Kim Borrowdale says:

    Thanks Rach. I’m working on a very similar project with one of my clients so a timely blog post. Some very interesting parallels between a big consumer brand rooted in family values and a professional services firm recognised for it’s refreshing human approach. Not as surprising as I first thought after reading a little more about Warburtons. When seeking out comms inspiration perhaps we should look more towards organisations with similar values rather than defaulting to the similar structure position…

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