Jane Asher: Jane Asher Party Cakes
Cake queen Jane Asher gives advice on building a successful brand
Jane Asher may be forever remembered as Beatle Paul McCartney’s girlfriend in the sixties, but these days she is best-known as the purveyor of perfectly sculptured cakes. But underneath the rolling pins and sprigs of sugar craft in every imaginable guise is a shrewd businesswoman who has built a successful company which happily trades on its founder’s name.
“I have never found it difficult to get the brand out there because I already had a name to market,” Asher admits. “Obviously if you have a certain name, it is easier to get coverage which is helpful when marketing something new,” she continues. The actress, novelist, cake-making, ex-Beatle girlfriend certainly doesn’t struggle to fill column inches, even now.
“But it cuts both ways,” she explains. “If there’s one bad Jane Asher cake that goes out there, people will remember. A brand is only as good as its last product.” She has a fair point: we can all recall celebrity endorsements which have gone wrong.
Recent memorable examples include Britney Spears being captured on film swigging Coca-Cola despite endorsing Pepsi at the time, and footballer David Beckham shaving his hair off soon after becoming the poster boy for styling product brand Brylcreem.
Asher has maintained a firm grip of the reins where her business, Jane Asher Party Cakes Ltd, and indeed her brand, is concerned. “At the moment there’s nothing out there that I don’t personally see, have a hand in or know that my team at the shop would have made as absolutely wonderfully as I would want,” she says confidently.
The team to which Asher is referring has David Trumper and Ruth Clark at its helm, the two managers who have been with Asher practically since the beginning (she started the business in 1990). When recruiting Clark, Asher says she was looking for someone who was savvy and, most importantly, trustworthy. “I knew that when my children grew up I would gently withdraw more and more from the business and go back to my real job – acting.”
It was also crucial that the new manager would not be overwhelmed by her new boss’ star credentials. “I remember interviewing Ruth in full eighteenth century costume in the National Theatre dressing room between shows and she was so cool about it all, not in the least bit impressed or fazed,” recalls Asher.
It was after having secured her first manager – Trumper was recruited in a junior role but soon rose up the ranks – Asher realised that she could use her name, her ready-made brand, to raise awareness of her cakes by working with supermarkets. “That really saved the business,” she admits.
Asher originally went to Marks & Spencers who were impressed by her cakes but offered her what she describes as a “very, very tough deal”. Sainsbury’s however, leapt at the chance of working with the cake guru. After some years of a fruitful partnership Asher gently withdrew from that market as “cakes were becoming more and more branded with the latest TV thing and much more mass produced in a way that I felt I couldn’t put my name on”.
Putting her name to something she wasn’t sure she believed wasn’t as insurmountable as Asher once thought. When initially approached by Victoria Foods she was unsure about putting her name to cake mixes. “I said instead of my brand bringing your product up, I think your product could drag down the brand,” she recalls. It was only after Victoria Foods produced mixes from her recipes that she was convinced that they were of a high enough quality to warrant the Jane Asher name.
Over the years Asher has become well accustomed to discussing brand values and claims she has become quite cynical about it. “You get very used to being examined by focus groups and listening through two-way glass to what they’re saying about you,” she explains. It can yield humour too; Asher recalls one of the Sainsbury’s conveyor belts being called ‘Jane Asher’. “So it was ‘oh God Jane Asher’s broken down again’ or ‘Jane Asher’s a bit slow this morning’ which was a bit strange.”