Q&A: Saul Betmead de Chasteigner – Chief Marketing Officer, United Nations World Food Programme

Saul Betmead de Chasteigner recently made the transition out of the agency world to be the most senior marketer at the United Nations World Food Programme. His objective is to create a brand worthy of the incredibly important organization, its impact, and its people.

Prior to joining the UN, Saul was Chief Strategy Officer for VMLY&R in EMEA and CSO for WPP special projects. During his time at VMLY&R he sat on the Global Executive Board, Global Creative Board, and Global Strategy Board.

In 2016 co-authored the multiple Cannes Grand Prix winning McWhopper idea for Burger King, the 2015 Cannes Media Grand Prix, Global WARC Innovation winning ‘Red Light’ idea for Vodafone Turkey, and most recently the Cannes Glass Grand Prix 2019 & Cannes Titanium 2019 winning Last Ever Issue, Gazeta.pl.


Gayle Seminara-Mandel recently caught up with the Cambridge UK native to talk about his transition out of the agency world into his work with the UN brand, challenges faced by the organization, and more.

What sparked your transition from Chief Strategy Officer for VMLY&R EMEA to Chief Marketing Officer for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)?

This was a slow burn and it probably starts with my humble journal. I try and write most mornings over a coffee before the day kicks off (a remarkably cathartic experience I must say). I write about what’s in my head at that moment, how I am feeling, what’s working, what’s not, and I noticed I was reflecting more and more on what I wanted to do with my life, what work I found rewarding and what things I didn’t.

At the same, I was completing a Masters at Oxford and there was a fascinating framework for long-term organizational success called ‘Exploit – Explore’. It’s essentially about how you balance doing what you are currently successful at (Exploit), whilst at the same time looking at what will make you successful in the future (Explore). I found myself applying this to my personal situation – What was I currently good at? What did I currently enjoy doing? And what could that look like in the future?

I’d also met Henry Majed, a visiting fellow at the Said Business School, a polymath and serial social entrepreneur – which started a conversation that we continue to this day, about what success means. It made me think differently about the direction my ‘career’ was going in.


So, I was kind of ready for a change and I happened to get a call from UN about a job at UNWFP around the same time.


What unique challenges if any did you encounter? And how did you overcome them?

It has been a deeply humbling experience. Not just because of the impact of this remarkable organization but because it is a very different world, with very different challenges.

There is understanding the geo-politics – it’s such a vast organization, operating in so many places with so many complicating factors.

The speed of change and constant prioritization challenges – everything is important, everything is urgent, people’s lives are on the line.

There are many audiences – from our critical donor governments, our implementation partners, those we serve to our public audiences around the world.

There are challenging investment decisions – for an organization absolutely focused on saving and changing lives, justifying marketing spend takes on an understandably different level of intensity.

How did I overcome them? Watched and learned – especially from Corinne Woods and Greg Barrow, Director of Comms and Deputy-Director respectively. Their depth and breadth of knowledge, their wisdom and speed, well it’s inspiring.

What do you consider the biggest marketing challenges to the UN’s World Food Programme during the global pandemic? What new tools and techniques did you learn or use in 2020 and what was the payoff?

I suspect like with many other organizations, 2020 was unprecedented, and our challenges became even harder at almost every level. COVID19 created a new face of hunger: it not only made existing communities even more vulnerable, but it also pulled a large new group of people into the poverty and hunger cycle – the urban poor. Those urban populations, without safety nets, who have lost their jobs because of the economic downturn (think the small shop owner, the Tuk Tuk driver).

And that was reflected in how we needed to communicate – assuming nothing and expecting change.

The philosophy we lived by was simply to embrace opportunities as and when they arose:

Used our Executive Directors UN Security Council Speech to reframe the Covid challenge as creating a ‘Hunger pandemic’, becoming a symbolic phrase used in media all around the world throughout 2020.

When the world was feeling an unprecedented level of sense of solidarity and connection because of COVID and its life restrictions, we asked people to show what meal they were missing the most and support those who were going hungry – #missingthismeal

Noticing an increased interest in the Yemen crisis with younger audiences on Instagram and TikTok, we helped them understand quite how complex and challenging the situation was, asked them not to look away, to swipe, learn and speak up – #yemencrisis

Talk about what it means to the UN World Food Programme to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2020. Did this honor affect your marketing mix, impact brand awareness, and societal behavior in any way?

The Nobel Peace Laureate meant a great deal to the organization, it felt like ‘The People’s Prize’ – an honor to be shared by our partners, our beneficiaries, our staff, and our alumni over the last 60 years.

But it was also bitter-sweet. Our ED David Beasley summed it up most eloquently, as both an honor and a tragedy – if you listen to the announcement speech it recognizes the progress that has been made, but it’s also a warning – of what will happen if the world doesn’t change if UNWFP isn’t able to get the funds it needs. It was a recognition of our important work, but it was also a call to action to the world.

“It has been a deeply humbling experience. Not just because of the impact of this remarkable organization but because it is a very different world, with very different challenges.”

From a brand point of view, it was incredibly useful – shining a light on our work and asking some difficult questions of the world – what has hunger got to do with conflict? What has food got to do with peace? In a world where it’s hard to cut through, that was enormously helpful. We created many dedicated engagement assets designed to unpack those questions. These efforts culminated in a FB Live event around the Nobel Award ceremony itself – ‘The People’s Prize’ celebrating those we serve, our partners, our people past and present, as well as messages of congratulations from the International Space Station, a moving interview between Chiwetel Ejiofor and one of our Storytellers and an exclusive launch performance by artists Massari and Ali Gatie of their new song ‘I see the dream’.

We saw significant increases in brand awareness as well as followers and engagement on our owned channels.

Is there a particular campaign over the course of your career that you are most proud of?

I think it has to be the 2019 VMLY&R Poland’s ‘Last Ever Issue’ – I was glad to have played a part in such a meaningful, impactful, and clever idea.

Saul was also recently named to the AME Awards Advisory Council. You can learn more about that here.


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