Levy-payers to the Meat and Livestock Commission will be pleased to
learn that its incoming head of corporate communications, Nicky
O’Reilly, is definitely not a vegetarian. But put on the spot as to her
favourite meat, she apologises for being unable to decide between lamb
This is rare indeed - not the meat, nor indeed the apology; but the
uncharacteristic indecision. For O’Reilly is renowned as incisive.
’She’s not afraid to make decisions, then take them forward at a very
fast pace,’ says Direct PR proprietor Jane Lawrence, who has worked for
O’Reilly on and off for the past eight years.
It is likely, therefore, that she will bring a new broom mentality to
communications policy at the MLC when she joins early in the new
Change is undoubtedly afoot for her in-house team of 15 and almost
certainly on the cards for the trio of retained external consultancies:
Lowe Bell, Shandwick Consultants and Scope Ketchum.
Soon after joining her current employer the Country Landowners
Association in 1994, O’Reilly set about ringing the changes. ’When I
came in we changed everything from the logo we used, to the publications
we brought out,’ she says. ’My forte in the last couple of jobs has been
turning round an organisation which previously had a reactive PR role to
a proactive one.’
In her time at the CLA O’Reilly has worked on the BSE crisis and lobbied
Brussels with a view to protecting the interests of members threatened
by the EC’s review of the Common Agricultural Policy and its subsidies
structure. She also acquired expertise in food safety issues when
working for the Food and Drink Federation at the time of the Edwina
Currie salmonella in eggs affair - an event which O’Reilly pinpoints as
being the start of media ’sensationalisation’ of food issues.
Once installed at the MLC O’Reilly’s tasks will include restoring
consumer confidence in meat following the BSE and E.coli scares. She
believes some headway has already been made in this regard but feels
there could be better use of all the advice and research to which the
MLC has access.
There is also, she argues, a need to educate the public and retailers on
how to handle meat.
The other big issue that O’Reilly expects to encounter is animal
’We have to communicate that the industry does care about animals,’ she
The reputation of the British meat and livestock industry is undeniably
damaged, and it will take both time and plenty of effort to turn it
Why then has O’Reilly taken on such an onerous job?
The answer, she says quite simply, is that she relishes a challenge.
The veracity of this can be gleaned from her CV.
Not only have there been tricky briefs at the FDF and CLA, but she has
worked (very effectively, by all accounts) with the mercurial Jocelyn
Stevens at English Heritage and helped P&O rebuild its tarnished
reputation in the aftermath of the Zeebrugge disaster - trying to convey
the ferry company’s professionalism to the public and rekindling
corporate pride among its workforce.
’I think PR can make one of the biggest contributions to an
organisation,’ she says. ’It can make a real difference so that people
actually believe that an organisation is doing what is right and in
their best interests.’
Away from the pressures of PR, O’Reilly likes to unwind by taking flying
lessons or by running in the Kent Countryside near her home accompanied
by her pet German shepherd. Her move to the MLC will also entail a move
of house to be nearer its Milton Keynes headquarters. The upheaval
doesn’t appear to bother her unduly. O’Reilly seems to thrive on and
change, as her team at the MLC will soon discover.
’There are three words I’d apply to Nicky - clarity, perception and
action,’ says Lawrence. Inertia, you will note, doesn’t get a look
1988: Head of public affairs, Food and Drink Federation
1989: Head of public affairs, P&O European Ferries
1992: Director of external affairs, English Heritage
1994: Director of PR and communications, Country Landowners Association
1997: Head of corporate affairs, Meat and Livestock Commission