The magic behind the scenes

Ireland's leading PR agencies reveal how they have navigated the challenges presented by the pandemic over the past year and provided support to brands when they needed it most

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Brand Central

24 May 2021 | 0

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The secret sauce in many a successful business is the unseen work carried out in the background by its PR agency. From brand launches, planning campaigns, content creation, media training and crisis communications, a good PR firm is an invaluable asset to any brand. Covid created lots of upheaval and in many cases it was the PR agencies that advised on the best strategy to keep brands afloat. Here, ShelfLife speaks to the country’s leading agencies about how they are providing content that cuts through the noise to deliver success for their clients.


Hunter Communications

Established: 2010

Email: lynn@huntercommunications.ie

Website: www.huntercommunications.ie

Social media @huntercomms

Client list: Lakeshore, Don Carlos, Bonne Maman, Boyne Valley Honey, Popchips, Tayto, Hunky Dorys, KP, Tayto Bistro, O’Donnells Crisps, Hula Hoops, Musgraves Future brands, Happy Pear SuperValu range, Frank and Honest, Caramico, Nosh and Co, HUKU, The Kind, Bobbi Brown, Pearse Lyons Distillery, Míl Gin, Bread 41, KIND, McDonnells, Bujo, Counterpoint, Spice Burger

Q: In the past year, how has your company demonstrated your expertise in enabling FMCG brands to get their message across to their target audience?

A: We love being pushed out of our comfort zone and some of our best work has been produced when we’ve been forced to think outside of the box. In the past year at Hunter we’ve pivoted our campaigns to incorporate a more holistic approach, ensuring we reach consumers directly in their homes. For us this meant engaging with world class content creators and bringing brands that have resisted this type of marketing before into the fold. Some major brands were hesitant to pass off some of the control when it came to delivering their brand message but we expertly bridged the gap between new and old media enabling brands to reach their customers in fresh and exciting ways they hadn’t considered before. One of our most loved campaigns over the last year was the launch of Tayto Cheesatees. We engaged with the Instagram comedian Michael Fry of Big Dirty Fry who has a cult following for his satirical indie song videos to deliver the message that Tayto launched their cheesiest crisps yet. The video was hugely successful, speaking directly to the target market in content they were eager to consume.


Q&A with… Lynn Hunter, founder, Hunter Communications

Lynn Hunter, founder, Hunter Communications, explains why the company is wary of relying on online events going forward due to online event fatigue setting in

Q: Covid-19 restrictions have obviously created logistical challenges for PR in areas such as photography and events. How have you navigated these challenges to continue to deliver impactful work for your clients?

A: Covid aside, the PR landscape has changed beyond recognition over the last five years. We’ve seen a huge shift towards social media and original influencer content creation so while Covid presented some challenges, we were poised for the change as we were already really comfortable in this space. While traditional media and events are still hugely important for campaigns, we’ve seen social campaigns and influencer marketing move into the foreground. While this aspect was once a compliment to traditional PR avenues it has become the backbone of successful campaigns. Brands that maybe didn’t see the value in investing in social before now have redirected their campaigns and have seen real results. While there will always be a place for events, this last year has shown us they’re not necessarily integral to a campaigns success. There’s a whole host of new content creators who are producing incredible content for major brands that don’t need big teams of photographers and editors and we’ve really seen a shift towards this type of marketing. We have unique insight and access to this world through our sister agency, The Collaborations Agency which enables us to give the brands we work with an unparalleled 360 approach. A great example of this was our campaign for Tayto Cheesatees, we worked with cult favourite Instagram comedian Big Dirty Fry to create one of his notorious satirical indie videos. This approach enabled us to reach our core market with content they would be eager to consume and share.

Q: Looking towards the future, Covid-19 restrictions are likely to continue throughout 2021. Are online events the way forward (and if so, how do you ensure these are engaging?) or do you believe alternatives such as smaller, more intimate events outdoors will be the way forwards?

A: I’m wary of online events, especially as we move into summer and people want to be outside. I think at this stage people have online event fatigue. They can serve their place for a beauty launch or more targeted info-heavy press focused piece, but on the whole I don’t think they create the desired impact. They haven’t evolved to the level where they don’t feel stilted or forced and good PR should feel natural and enjoyable to the recipient. As the year moves on and we learn to live with restrictions we’ll be looking more towards intimate, bespoke events where we can create an immersive experience for attendees that showcases our clients at their best. As always though, peoples’ safety will be our top priority so we’ve been brainstorming some really exciting ideas that will ensure everyone’s safety and comfort and we’re really excited to get back to what we do best when the time comes.

Q: How do you strive to ensure your copy will always land with publications for your clients?

A: At Hunter we really think about who we’re speaking to before we approach a campaign. We take time to tailor our pitch to each individual publication, journalist or content creator. A one size fits all approach doesn’t work so we ensure our tone and action plan is appropriate for the individual we’re speaking to. We’ve also built up great relationships over the years that we really value and appreciate. We’re lucky to work closely with the best in the business and really nurture those relationships. We have journalists and content creators on our team at Hunter that can bring a unique perspective into what lands and how best to approach a pitch and that insight is invaluable, thinking about the end result at the start of a campaign. Our clients also really trust us to mould our campaigns depending on where we’re looking for coverage to land which is imperative, as at the end of the day, we need our clients to be happy.

Q: How important is sustainability to the company, in terms of eliminating unnecessary packaging from press drops etc. and how do you ensure you eliminate waste in this fashion?

As a business we’ve taken a number of steps over the last few years to become the most sustainable company we can be. For press drops our packaging is now all sourced from eco- friendly suppliers and is fully recyclable.

It’s so important to us to be a business with integrity and sustainability. We work with some amazing clients like The Kind and Huku Balance who live and breathe sustainability and it’s imperative our values align. We work hard at creating press kits that add value to the receiver. We don’t include disposable items that are just used for a photo op and then discarded, it’s important that anything we send out is of use to the recipient and relevant to the brand we’re working with. We always ask ourselves if something is wasteful before a press drop and exclude anything we think falls into this category. We’ve been on this journey for a number of years now and it’s just become the way we operate which was our goal.

Q: In terms of social media posts, what are some of the key factors to consider to deliver an authentic and consistent brand identity/personality?

A: We work on both sides, managing brands social media channels and also creating content for clients that approach us to be filtered through their channels. Consumers are so savvy now, you can’t just throw anything out and expect it to land, you need to respect your audience and tailor your content for them. People consume so much content now you have to think, ‘how can I capture peoples’ attention and add value?’ Authenticity is key. It’s really obvious when a content creator has no interest in a brand or if what they’re peddling doesn’t align with their audience. It’s our job to ensure our brands are working with the right people, regardless of numbers. They might have some big names in mind when they come to us but if we don’t think they’re a fit for their brand we state our case with alternatives and why we think they would work. On the surface our suggestions may have a smaller following but their audience will be receptive and we’ll get the cut through with who we need to be speaking to. It’s not cut and dry when it comes to social media, it’s not a numbers game anymore. It doesn’t matter if there are 500,000 eyes on a story if they’re not the people you’re trying to speak to. In some cases a brand is better off utilising a micro or nano influencer to deliver their message. They could get just 5,000 views but if they’re your target market that will generate more interest and awareness for your brand. Engagement is much more important than followers.


The Collaborations Agency

Established: 2007

Contact name: Lynn Hunter

Phone: 086 417 4986

Email: lynn@collabagency.com

Website: www.thecollaborationsagency.com

Social media: @thecollaborationsagency on Instagram

Client list: As a talent management agency with a variety of wonderful content creators, we are so lucky that our breadth of talent allows us to work so closely with all of Irelands leading FMCG brands and retailers, from Tesco, SuperValu, Aldi, Lidl, Centra, and M&S to Coca Cola, Dennys and McVities, to name just a few.

Lynn Hunter of The Collaborations Agency says audience engagement is absolutely key to surviving on social

Q: In the past year, how has your company demonstrated your expertise in enabling FMCG brands to get their message across to their target audience?

A: We’re living in a time where brand building and audience engagement is absolutely key to surviving on social, and influencer marketing is giving brands that essential means to reach and engage audiences in ways which are meaningful and relevant to them. It’s been clear to us for a long time, that creators have become an integral part of people’s lives; we rely on them for so much – from meal inspiration, to news updates, to morale boosting content, to discovering new products and services – they have become our go-to advisor of sorts. And never has this been so evident as since the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Across 2020/21, we have helped our clients, new and existing, adapt for success on social media, via cleverly executed collaborations. Having a rigorous matchmaking framework in place means we can remove the subjectivity of influencer marketing, and back up our selections with data and alignment to the brand and campaign, and ultimately generate the best results for our clients. We are firm believers that influencer marketing should complement the connection creators have already established with their followers, after all, creators who have spent years building up trust and credibility offer a type of expertise that brands can utilise by maintaining a collaborative mind set. It’s a very exciting time to be in this industry, as we begin to see more brands consider influencer marketing as a ‘must-have’ channel for their campaigns as opposed to a ‘nice to have’ option in their wider marketing mix.


Cullen Communications

Established: 1985

Contact name: Owen Cullen

Phone: 01 668 9099

Email: info@cullencommunications.ie

Website: www.cullencommunications.ie

Social media: Twitter – @CullenComms

Client list: Applegreen, BSI Consulting Services – Cybersecurity and Information Resilience, Complete Laboratory Solutions, Continental Tyres, Easytrip, Enterprise Ireland, Ford, McGreals Pharmacy Group, Novaerus, O’Connors of Drumleck, Outdoorspaces.ie, SEAI, Wind Mobility

Owen Cullen, managing director, Cullen Communications explains how the company has found new ways and alternative channels to launch products and campaigns over the past year

Q: Covid-19 restrictions have obviously created logistical challenges for PR in areas such as photography and events. How have you navigated these challenges to continue to deliver impactful work for your clients?

A: In the past year the FMCG sector has undergone profound change with the pandemic restrictions seeing many non-essential retailers closed or severely curtailed. It has brought about sweeping changes in the way people see, buy, and consume brand products, and there has been a huge surge in online buying.

For brands, this meant no longer talking about digital transformation but actually having to do it to stay afloat. This in turn posed fresh and exciting challenges for PR agencies like us, as we found new ways and alternative channels to launch products and campaigns by combining strategic digital, social, original content creation and media targeted approaches to reach audiences.

As an agency we take a fluid approach with clients and help guide them to move in different and new directions. Having this agility has really benefited us over the last year by working with an innovative and integrated communications and marketing toolkit for campaigns, launches and brand announcements and also with public affairs. This has included stakeholder engagement, digital, social, webinars, media drops, and influencer marketing as well as traditional outreach, working with brands to build presence and create new conversations.

Tapping into wellbeing, sustainability, community, and the new way of working has been a key part of getting brand messages to the right audience in the right way, that are meaningful and impactful. We have really become part of our client’s team over the last year and this has resulted in significant success for clients.


Jailbird Communications

Established: 2019

Contact: Julie Blakeney

Phone: 0863420794

Email: Julie@hellojailbird.com

Website: www.hellojailbird.com

Social media: @hellojailbird

Client list: Hendrick’s Gin, Tullamore D.E.W. Whiskey, Fulfil, Kopparberg, Fever Tree, Other Voices Music, Visit Tipperary

Julie Blakeney, founder, Jailbird Communications, established the business in 2019 and lists Hendrick’s Gin and FulFil among her clients

Q: In the past year, how has your company demonstrated your expertise in enabling FMCG brands to get their message across to their target audience?

A: 2020 was a ‘throw out the rule book’ kind of year for many businesses and consumers. We were determined to continue to create attention grabbing, effective work for our clients despite many hurdles! We knew people wanted to escape the bleak daily news cycle so our aim was to build campaigns for clients and consumers that offered moments of fun, interest and solace during a very trying time.

We were lucky that our clients were up for the challenge too! We built some amazing campaigns that brought about creativity, fun, and most importantly, results for our brands. We launched the Tullamore D.E.W. Virtual Snug which saw influencers take part in their very own Snug Session bringing the pub (and whiskey tasting!) live to their sitting room.

We created the ultimate Kopparberg Hard Seltzer garden bunch for pals to enjoy from the safety of their own home.

Throughout a very difficult year, we kept our brands front of mind with both media and influencers, ensuring we drove awareness, affinity and ultimately, sales.


Harris PR

Established: 2009

Contact name: Sonia Harris Pope

Email: sonia@harrispr.ie

Website: www.harrispr.ie

Social media: @soniaharrispr

Client list: AYA, Bosch, BSHG, Capitalflow, Dingle Distillery (Whiskey, Gin and Vodka), Domino’s, Gaggenau, Gourmet Tart Co, Irish Haemochromatosis Association, Kaliedy, My Expert Midwife, NEFF, NUK, Porterhouse Brew Co, Pro-Ven, Siemens, StuffUNeed.ie, Tassimo, Uniphar, United Drug, Wing It

Q: In the past year, how has your company demonstrated your expertise in enabling FMCG brands to get their message across to their target audience?

A: Once Covid hit, budgets were slashed, plans upturned, brands “pivoted” and everything was suddenly terrifyingly uncertain. But amidst all the confusion it was clear brands needed PR support more than ever.

We were very quick to recognise the scale of the upheaval caused by Covid-19 and our consumer focussed approach made it easier for us to impress upon our clients the need to reassure customers and to provide support at the most challenging time in people’s lives. From helping Domino’s as an essential service to supporting start-ups provide food and services to frontline workers, to helping one of Ireland’s leading retailers close their doors forever as they embarked upon a new business, showcased what we do best.

We’d worked with some clients since the agency’s inception and others came on board during Covid, but new or old, the challenge remained the same: how do we get through this, while safeguarding jobs, and protecting colleagues and customers?

We set about meeting each client virtually, revising plans and deciding, initially, to take each day as it came. We offered counsel, providing daily reports (Monday-Sunday) outlining case numbers, Government schemes, impacts on jobs and what everything meant for clients. This helped to inform our communications both externally to consumers and internally to our clients’ employees.

We crafted plans based on what was happening at that moment and who we were talking to; their state of mind and their essential needs and wants, to deliver the best possible results for our clients.


Q&A with… Sonia Harris Pope, founder, Harris PR

Sonia Harris Pope, managing director, Harris PR, says that the pandemic has changed PR forever, and probably for the better

Q: Covid-19 restrictions have obviously created logistical challenges for PR in areas such as photography and events. How have you navigated these challenges to continue to deliver impactful work for your clients?

A: We thought we understood how upheaval works in our PR world having gone from faxing print organisations 20 years ago to the instant communications with constantly updated digital platforms, the rise of the influencer and the dominance of social media we’re familiar with now but nothing compares to the changes we’ve all seen in the last year.

Instead of face-to-face media and influencer launch events, we organised virtual events that incorporated consumers, therefore widening the guest list dramatically. Where previously we might have entertained 50-100 people, all of a sudden 2,500 people are tuning into a brand launch, such as a recent panel event celebrating the arrival of My Expert Midwife to the Irish market.  Photoshoots are happening on iPhones, as in the case of Jodie Wood launching her ambassadorship with Irish vitamin brand AYA and as for whiskey tastings, well they work just as well for Dingle as live events. In the last quarter of 2020, we launched their Descendants Cask Programme, selling 70x€10k+ casks in just 10 days, and their Fourth Pot Still with all 8,000 bottles selling within 24 hours. We’ve embraced the cook along craze with Bosch and their series of Bakealong events for the family and for Domino’s launched Contact Free Delivery at the very start of the pandemic, and more recently In Car Collection, as well a feeding frontline healthcare workers and vulnerable people in our society with over 200,000 slices of pizza.

Q: Looking towards the future, Covid-19 restrictions are likely to continue throughout 2021. Are online events the way forward (and if so, how do you ensure these are engaging?) or do you believe alternatives such as smaller, more intimate events outdoors will be the way forwards?

A: The pandemic has changed PR forever, and probably for the better.  It’s got us thinking about how we can talk directly to consumers in other interesting and engaging ways, as well as through media.  When planning virtual events, it’s vital to think of every viewer. Multiple voices with engaging content that educates people in an empathetic manner is now more important than ever.  Live events will be great when they come around again, and they will come around, we’ll just need to work harder on the risk assessment and ensure people are safe and feel confident. Clients like to see options so we’re sure to present ideas for every scenario.

Q: How do you strive to ensure your copy will always land with publications for your clients?

A: feel that the press release has evolved; it’s important to agree messages and comms but I’d like to think that the age of agencies blind copying releases to multiple journalists is over.  We craft stories for journalists that we think will be interested in that particular story or angle. It really is about the quality of content and understanding what the journalist is interested in.  My background is journalism and some of the team have journalism backgrounds too so we think that helps carve the story too.  There’s a real synergy between all types of media and a natural respect that comes from reading journalists content to better understand them.

Q: In terms of social media posts, what are some of the key factors to consider to deliver an authentic and consistent brand identity/personality?

A: There’s so much info on social media and most people scroll after a few seconds so for social media posts to deliver a punch they must be engaging, honest and generate interesting content for consumers. Visual assets are so important, people expect the production values to be high and rightly so, there’s little excuse for weak or poor-quality content on any channel.  As well as static images, videos, takeovers, panel discussions and live content draws people in, gives them an understanding of the brand’s ethos and personality.


Masonry PR

Established: 2011

Contact name: Kathryn Mason

Phone: 087-2627977

Email: km@masonry.ie

Website: https://masonry.ie/

Client list: Taste of Dublin 2021, Powerscourt Distillery, Thrive Wellness Festival, IMRO Radio Awards since 2014, Equinox Events

Kathryn Mason, founder, Masonry PR, says it’s important to be seen as one of your client’s team

Q: In the past year, how has your company demonstrated your expertise in enabling FMCG brands to get their message across to their target audience?

A: Feedback from our clients tells us that their sales teams see the real value of what our PR coverage delivers.

Coverage we achieve should demonstrate a bottom line return, public relations is not a cost, it’s an investment in your sales funnel.

Awareness, visibility, placement tactics, really matter and have an impact on sales. When the return on the PR investment shows, your sales team will see real leads and real sales.

One of our principle pillars at Masonry is teamwork. Many of our clients consistently tell us how we’ve become an integral part of their team.

By being at the heart of your day to day business, we get more from you and for you. Your business nuts and bolts matter to us. We believe that it is our job to get to know your business, and then let you shine on all news platforms.


Narrate PR

Established: 2019

Contact name: Hazel Dobbyn, founder/owner Narrate PR

Phone: 01- 525 2187

Email: hazel@narratepr.ie

Client list: Clients include Irish seafood and food producers, SME’s and companies in the healthcare pharma, property and tourism sector.

Website: www.narratepr.ie

Hazel Dobbyn, founder/owner, says Narrate PR’s approach is grounded in a passion for authentic, honest and creative communications

Narrate PR, founded by experienced communications consultant Hazel Dobbyn, is a boutique communications consultancy with expertise across a variety of sectors including health, food, retail, property, tourism and the marine.

As head of communications for Bord Iascaigh Mhara for 10 years prior to establishing Narrate PR, Hazel has extensive experience of developing and implementing high level campaigns and sponsorships in the retail and wider food space.

Narrate PR offers tailored communications consultancy services to its clients including strategic communications advice, media relations, crisis communications, media training, content development and event management support.

“We understand the challenges businesses face in terms of resources and time. We also understand what in-house communications and marketing professionals need from an agency and how to deliver significant value at a competitive rate,” explains Hazel Dobbyn.

Narrate PR works in collaboration with like-minded experts in web design, brand strategy, event management and digital marketing to deliver a full suite of services to clients.

“Our approach is grounded in a passion for authentic, honest and creative communications working in partnership with clients to build loyalty and trust. If you want to promote your business and/or product more effectively or you simply want to see if Narrate PR is a good fit, we would love to talk to you,” says Dobbyn.

Q: In the past year, how has your company demonstrated your expertise in enabling FMCG brands to get their message across to their target audience?

A: Our work in the retail space took a different direction last year as businesses continued to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic. Narrate PR supported clients with creative PR campaigns to take advantage of the growing demand for healthy convenient food offerings on the home market. As consumers actively sought new products to try at home – particularly food products – one of our clients and one of Ireland’s longest established seafood processors, Morgan’s Fine Fish, launched its first ready to cook seafood meal range ‘Morgan’s Seafood Kitchen’ in select Dunnes Stores.

In the absence of in-store tastings, the company faced a significant challenge to create awareness for the range and drive sales. Narrate PR worked with Morgan’s Fine Fish to develop a creative PR strategy to build awareness and increase stockists through targeted media coverage and social media partnerships. Extensive media coverage was achieved across print, broadcast and online in addition to media partnerships with RSVP magazine and www.mykidstime.com. Despite the challenges of lockdown, stockists initially increased from five Dunnes Stores branches to 14 stores (SuperValu, Dunnes Stores and independents).


RNN Communications

Established: 2012

Contact name: Riki Neill

Phone: 048 9521 3621

Email: riki@rnncommunications.com

Website: www.RNNCommunications.com

Social media: Insta: @RNNComms Facebook: @RNN Communications Twitter: @RNNComms

Client list: RNN Comms works across Ireland, delivering work in Ireland and Northern Ireland for FMCG brands, retailers, clients in the hospitality and foodservice sectors and within the renewables industry.

Riki Neill founded RNN Communications in 2012 and works across the FMCG, foodservice and hospitality sector

The agency is unique in its all-Ireland delivery and for clients, this ensures campaign consistency and relevancy within both markets. RNN is flexible in its agency model, working with clients on both a retainer and project basis; and clients can avail of fully integrated solutions or choose to engage in online-only campaigns.

RNN has specialist knowledge of working for major food distributors, delivering partner brand solutions for the Irish market which include full integrated marketing campaigns, social media strategy and implementation, sponsorship, experiential activations including sampling and product launches.

The agency has extensive experience working across the grocery, food & drink and foodservice sectors, delivering award-winning campaigns that directly impact on sales.

Further information, including client case studies, can be located at RNNCommunications.com.

Q: In the past year, how has your company demonstrated your expertise in enabling FMCG brands to get their message across to their target audience?

A: The company has adapted, been flexible and it has worked with all clients in partnership to prioritise their evolving needs. This is when the true value of an excellent communications partner is demonstrated – when you need them most.

For its FMCG clients, and indeed all clients, it audited marketing plans for the year ahead as soon as the country went into lockdown. Plans were reformulated, the company regrouped, and it responded to the ever-changing landscape. Internal communications was vital to organisations and their teams, and RNN offered this service to all clients, delivering hundreds of pieces of internal communications over the last 12 months.

RNN continually monitored public sentiment, created ‘of the time’ videography and imagery, revisited clients’ social media strategies, conducted SoMe audits, created exciting virtual initiatives, and delivered incredible projects that shone a light on those who had helped us most over the past year.

For many of its FMCG clients, it significantly increased online activity, trialled new platforms, developed influencer campaigns and introduced SEO and PPC to online strategies. The company widened its breadth of delivery to develop social media strategy and implementation for brands in European markets.

This online focus helped its clients to continually engage with its audiences during a period when many other activations were off the cards.

Key to demonstrating expertise over the past year was working with clients in the most challenging of times, being flexible and mindful of the changing circumstances for business and people’s lives and delivering solutions for the new normal.


Burrell Marketing and Publicity

Established: 1990

Contact name: Rebecca Burrell

Email: rebecca@burrell.ie

Social media: burrell_pr /@BurrellPR /Burrell Marketing and Publicity

Client list: Tommy Hilfiger/ Boohoo/com/Nasty Gal/Karen Millen/Coast/Oxendales/Simply Be, Aveeno/Neutrogena/OGX haircare, Lenor/Flash/Fairy/Ariel, Eccles/Staunton’s /Number 31/Wine Port Lodge, Grace O’Malley/Proclamation Whiskey, Wayward Spirits, Abundance and Health, The Iveagh Markets

Rebecca Burrell, managing director, Burrell Marketing and Publicity works with brands from Tommy Hilfiger to Ariel

Q: In the past year, how has your company demonstrated your expertise in enabling FMCG brands to get their message across to their target audience?

A: As an agency Burrell PR is small and agile enough to adapt to the challenges brought to the market with Covid and its effects on businesses. Burrell PR moved to digital where relevant and moved to be seen where consumers shifted to, keeping abreast of buying patterns and habits as they changed due to lifestyle restrictions. Regular and clear communication with all stake holders was vital, with trust and efficiency at the core of building and maintaining relationships.


 

 

 

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