Emerald opportunities: Consumer PR is booming in the Irish Republic as practitioners utilise all their marketing skills to get ahead in a crowded communications market. But the industry still has a way to go before it can be sure of its long-term future

In the UK, PR agencies are invariably in a constant battle for a slice of the budget with their counterparts in other areas of communications.

In the UK, PR agencies are invariably in a constant battle for a

slice of the budget with their counterparts in other areas of

communications.



But in the Irish Republic, client companies often utilise PR above or in

place of other disciplines. Is this because it is more cost-effective

than advertising, and so gets better results in Ireland, a smaller

business and consumer environment? Or is it because the Irish market has

a unique propensity to be talked about?



These were the key topics discussed at a recent round table in Dublin

between some of the leading Irish corporates and agencies.

Significantly, Northern Ireland was regarded by delegates as aimply

another external market, and part of, the UK.



From the client side, the representatives were: Mary Brennan, media

relations specialist at the Bank of Ireland; Jeremy Crisp, marketing

manager at Nestle; Barney Whelan, PR manager for electricity supplier

ESB; and Rachel Meagher, marketing manager for drinks manufacturer

Gilbeys.



The agency practitioners were Tara Dwyer from Edelman Public Relations;

Julian Davis from Fleishman-Hillard Saunders; and Conor Dempsey from

Text 100. Sheena Horgan, joint managing director of Eulogy, which has

just opened a sister office in Dublin for its London-based company,

chaired the discussion.



PR is a young discipline in Ireland but corporates have already grasped

how well it can work in the Irish market. As the market is small, so are

the marketing budgets, and PR is a more realistic and versatile option

than advertising.



Crisp says: ’pounds 100,000 can work very hard in a PR campaign but

can’t do much advertising. It’s about seeing where the money will be

most effective.’ But agency practitioner Davis qualified this by

pointing out that Irish clients were often as guilty as UK clients of

thinking in terms of how cheap PR was, rather than focusing on its

effectiveness.



The size of the market also places restrictions on agencies, according

to Dwyer. ’PR in Ireland has to be more versatile,’ she says. ’In the UK

there are huge budgets, so you might be able to commission serious

research just to get media attention.



’If we commission research in Ireland, it has to be transferable so it

can be used by the sales force and for other promotions functions. In

Ireland, we have to think broader to make the budget work harder,’ she

adds.



Dwyer also points out that this has an impact on the skills base within

the industry. ’PROs in Ireland probably have a broader experience

because we’re operating in a smaller environment with fewer tools,’ she

says.



’Chances are that people will be experienced in consumer, business,

technology and so on, whereas in the UK, PR people are more likely to

stick to the same disciplines,’ she concludes.



Another key difference is the high level of co-operation and even

partnership with advertising people and other forms of marketing in

Ireland compared with the UK. Most of the delegates had experience of

working closely with advertising teams. Davis at F-H Saunders says:

’It’s becoming more common to get people from different disciplines

round the table. Communications is down to marketing solutions and we’re

all part of one team - if we see ourselves as separate, we’re doing

things for our own ends, and that’s not what it’s about.’



Text 100’s Dempsey said there was a ’mood of partnership’.

’Communications people do tend to talk about guarding their share of the

pie, but the end objectives are the same,’ he says. ’It’s better if we

can find a way of working together. Partnership is a client buzz word.

It’s not a case of telling another agency what to do but calling a

consultancy which might have another view.’ He added that this attitude

could be down to the overall well-being of the Irish economy: ’We’re all

doing well, so there is less threat.’



The sheer breadth of the media is taken for granted by PR people in the

UK, and spend tends to be focused to chase a particular media

outlet.



In Ireland, there are just three national TV channels and four national

newspapers. This creates its own set of problems for PR practitioners,

because there are fewer opportunities to get the message across, but it

also has its advantages.



Dempsey says: ’Given the size of the market and the number of

decision-makers, it’s easy to get to them - so you can get good media

coverage on a smaller budget.’



Dwyer from Edelman says the Irish media is also perceived differently by

its consumers. ’It has a very credible reputation and drives

conversation at the grass roots level, which isn’t always the case in

other countries,’ she says.



The narrow scope of the Irish media means other PR avenues need to be

explored fully. Meagher of Gilbeys says: ’In the UK, PR often gets lost

because there is so much going on and it’s very difficult to get talked

about, while the Irish like to feel their mega-brands are contributing

to society and culture. Getting people to talk about you in Ireland is

so important, so things like sponsorship are really important.’



Guinness, in its position as the most well-known Irish brand, for

example, is expected to sponsor everything. Heineken, in response to

sponsorhip pressure, has created a niche of backing music events.



Brennan of the Bank of Ireland believes there is still room to expand

sponsorship as a key PR function in Ireland. ’Arts is an untapped area

of sponsorship - we’re obsessed with sports here,’ she says, citing the

link between Budweiser and the Irish Derby, and the Bank of Ireland

football championships.



When it comes to PR having to respond to Irish culture, Dwyer is also

concerned that PR should take the Irish-speaking TV channels and radio

more seriously in the future, although Brennan adds as a caveat: ’If

that’s about modern Ireland and how we see ourselves then that’s fine,

as a huge tranche of people do speak Irish, but there’s still a lot of

traditional cliches, bare feet and shawls and so on, which we need to

avoid.’



Away from specific functions where there is room to do more, the Irish

PR industry is also battling to move to a more strategic position in

corporate development, as is happening in the UK.



Eulogy’s Horgan says this is an important direction for PR, but

practitioners need to take more of a lead and prove they are capable of

going beyond implementation before they are given more of a say in

company strategy.



’I’ve found that not many agencies are coming up with strategic ideas,’

she says. ’The agency has to be confident in the client for that to

happen, and vice versa. The planning discipline is massively underrated

in Ireland.’



Crisp says PR in Ireland has not been fully accepted as part of the

marketing mix because it has not shown it can provide strategy. ’There

are a few practitioners looking at strategy rather than implementation,

but it’s usually only the big agencies which can afford to provide that

service,’ he says. ’Clients also need to understand that they need to

bring agencies in early to share their research and let the relationship

develop. It’s not an overnight process.’



Dwyer agrees. ’There are more and more PR people in Ireland who have

worked in the UK or other European offices where PR is brought in at an

earlier stage, and are briefed two or three years before launch.

Traditionally it is all done at a later stage in Ireland, and PR is

lucky to be brought in until a couple of months before launch,’ she

says.



The desire to increase professionalism and the clout of the PR industry

is also reflected in an increasing awareness of how crucial measurement

and evaluation are. As Dempsey at Text 100 says: ’Measurement used not

to be discussed, but we know it’s in our interest to be measured, and

that we would get a bigger spend if we were measured and could prove how

effective we are.’



There are plenty of other challenges ahead for the Irish PR market and

Dempsey is particularly keen for clients to see PR as a crucial part of

their strategy while Ireland is still experiencing an economic boom. ’PR

needs to secure its role as a key member of the team, so when there is a

downturn we’re not thrown out of the mix and seen as something only used

during the good times,’ he concludes.



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