What made you decide to come back to Northern Ireland?
I first decided to leave Belfast for Manchester after hearing that it was the challenger city to London – from a creative industries’ standpoint anyway. And it still is – it’s absolutely at the top of its game, with local agencies winning national accounts from London agencies left, right and centre – and not just based on cost but based on being clever and creative when it matters most.
There are a lot of synergies between Northern Ireland and the North of England, especially in terms of agency ambitions to conquer new markets, win big and challenge their rivals. For the North of England, this meant going up against agencies in the capital and winning national awards. For Northern Ireland agencies, it’s about winning national awards too, as well as looking outside our own region to secure work across the UK and Ireland and beyond; putting us on the map alongside our national counterparts.
After five years in England, the chance to bring my experiences of a global agency home to help a growing and ambitious agency like SERIOUS do just that, was an exciting proposition.
SERIOUS’ plans for the future and impressive client portfolio really struck a chord with me. The work it was already doing in GB for clients such as Acheson & Glover (AG) and Portview resonated with me immediately, as well as the chance to further carve its experience niche in Professional and Financial Services.
How does the NI market place differ from the GB market?
As with any marketplace there are startling differences and then almost comforting similarities. No matter where you work in PR these days, it’s about keeping up with industry changes and going the whole hog for clients. Our industry is changing irrespective of what side of the water you’re on, so in that respect, we’re all in the same boat.
NI does have a micro culture of its own however, and it’s interesting to see that local media here still has a huge influence and importance for client businesses. There has historically been less of a focus on mainstream media titles because of this however, that shouldn’t be the case. NI agencies and NI companies cannot remain NI centric if they want to put our region on a national map and reap the business benefits of a larger marketplace. At SERIOUS we don’t just say we can cover the GB marketplace – we really do it.
From a political standpoint, the landscape here is unlike anywhere else. It’s vital that any PR professional understands, even at topline level, the workings of the NI Assembly, whereas in GB, unless you specialise in public affairs, it’s fair to say you can leave the politics to the politicians.
What aspect about your job do you most enjoy?
Coming from a legal background, I think the diversity and scope of a PR career was what instantly made me realise I had found the career for me – especially working within an agency where no two days are ever the same, and clients differ in size, brief and sector.
One thing that makes getting up in the morning easier, is having a seat at the corporate table of some of the UK’s largest brands and companies. Working alongside senior bodies including CEOs and MDs, all well-respected in their fields, and advising them on crucial matters affecting their business isn’t the norm for most – I don’t know another career you’d get exposure to that level of seniority from an early stage.
Thinking commercially and creatively at the same time is also not the norm for most people, so for someone who is probably as right-brained as they are left, it is the perfect combination.
Lastly, no matter how much our industry changes, and how much we lessen our reliance on earned media, spotting clever ways of joining dots for clients still gives me the same buzz I had as an account executive. Piggybacking the wider news agenda or simply just being aware of what’s happening around us and matching that to your understanding of a client’s business will for me always be at the core of what we do. It is in our DNA. What you do with that and how is the next stage of the puzzle.
What is the most challenging part of working in the PR sector?
You’re constantly ‘on’. The lights are never out. From scanning Twitter under the duvet before you’ve even woken up, to attending meetings, pitches, networking, to doing your general day job and even noting ideas down in the middle of the night – a PR’s mind can be a cluttered place.
Top that with an ever-changing landscape, including emerging digital tends, and pressure to continually keep yourself and your agency fresh and relevant and at the top of its game – there is rarely a dull moment.
But as they say, a challenge provides an opportunity and if we’re honest, PRs wouldn’t have it any other way.