The Mark Childs Factor

His players call him 'refreshing,' 'authentic' and 'contagious,' a motivator who can inspire his team to ratchet up its game. But when Mark Childs first joined Toronto-based Campbell in 2004 as VP marketing, the department was a bit in the doldrums. His mission quickly became to boost morale and energize his troops. Today, he says: 'We have an energy as a marketing team that we haven't had for a while. There's a pride in everyone's step.'

His players call him ‘refreshing,’ ‘authentic’ and ‘contagious,’ a motivator who can inspire his team to ratchet up its game. But when Mark Childs first joined Toronto-based Campbell in 2004 as VP marketing, the department was a bit in the doldrums. His mission quickly became to boost morale and energize his troops. Today, he says: ‘We have an energy as a marketing team that we haven’t had for a while. There’s a pride in everyone’s step.’

Soup isn’t sexy, but Childs is certainly adding sizzle to the 137-year-old company. It’s a process that logically began with inspiring the people behind the brand, a trait he’s increasingly becoming known for.

While VP marketing at Kellogg, where he worked for 15 years, Childs put his team on colour-coded scooters, to inspire the creative process, and recruited a group of kid marketers to redesign the Apple Jacks brand. So when Kellogg president Phil Donne made the move to Campbell’s top spot, Childs (who also did a stint at Preview Marketing) was a natural pick to head its marketing department.

At Campbell, Childs is also working his magic. ‘He has reinvented the traditional process to allow ideas to be the springboard for plans for the year,’ says Susan O’Brien, Campbell’s director of marketing. ‘We have to think differently.’ And it’s working. ‘Having created an environment that’s open to ideas and creativity, the team is flourishing,’ Childs says. ‘They are coming up with ideas they may not have thought about before.’ Case in point, the Soup at Hand product and extensions to the brand’s upscale Gardennay line. The new-feel team is also tackling what Childs refers to as the ‘Achilles heel of the soup category’ – sodium.

While the company’s R&D team worked to reduce sodium levels on 25 products (the goal is 156 by the end of 2008), Childs’ team worked at communicating the message to consumers.

One of his first initiatives was to reach out to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, which endorses nutritious food through its Health Check symbol. Campbell is leveraging its connection with the organization, not only on its packaging, but through in-store promotion. In an ongoing initiative, dieticians are unleashed in stores across Canada, randomly offering to pay customers’ grocery bills if they pick up products with the Health Check symbol.

Under Childs, Campbell’s use of traditional media has never been stronger. Between 2004 and 2005 there was a three-fold increase in presence on television, in terms of weeks, weight and coverage. It grew again in 2006. In early 2007, Campbell launched a series of four national TV spots entitled ‘Veggie Goodness.’ The new campaign features four people who reflect Canada’s diversity, each diving into a bowl of soup and quipping: ‘M’m! M’m! Good!’ in their respective languages.

And while the soup aisle is known for boring rows of cans, Childs is making it dynamic. One initiative: the IQ Maximizer, a low-tech soup dispenser that rolls out a new tin of soup after one is grabbed. The push on in-store innovation and advertising has ultimately grown the brand’s soup category, up 6% last year.

And they have been rewarded. Childs has secured a commitment by the bean counters to increase the marketing department’s budget ahead of bottom-line delivery – a first for the company. ‘We’ve demonstrated that [marketing] can grow this business,’ he says.