Regional Focus: Belfast

Belfast paper leaves the Troubles behind

As the Northern Ireland political Troubles have faded into the background over the past few years, newspapers across the region have had to look elsewhere for news. The good news for PR agencies is that this has meant an increase in opportunities for coverage.     

‘After 30 years of stories being delivered to their door about terrorism, the papers have had to find other news to fill their pages,’ says Belfast City Council head of corporate communications Eamon Deeny.

One such paper is the Belfast Telegraph, which vies against the Irish Sun and News Letter for readers across Northern Ireland.

The key for PROs wanting to pitch stories to the Belfast Telegraph is making the story relevant to the paper’s readership. ‘Simply adding Belfast in an email’s subject line can make a story actually stand out in a crowded inbox,’ says Forge MD Sami McCabe.

Inform Communications director Ross Williamson agrees with McCabe and adds: ‘The mistake agencies make is treating the newspaper as an afterthought. PR agencies looking to get coverage in the title shouldn’t treat it like a provincial newspaper.’

In recent times the paper has made a deliberate move to cover more international news, with world events making the front page daily.

‘People have more interest in global news now after the Troubles,’ says Belfast Telegraph managing editor Paul Connolly. ‘We see ourselves as the national paper and we are not intensely parochial. We are regional rather than local. It partly reflects the old agenda moving on.’

The paper is owned by Independent News & Media, and like many regional papers it has not escaped a squeeze on its editorial team. ASITIS Consulting MD Nick Garbutt, a former deputy editor of the Belfast Telegraph, says the stretched resources of the paper can actually be good news for PROs. ‘This provides a great opportunity for agencies to become an extension of the news desk by consistently providing strong news stories. Get it right and they’ll welcome your calls, and even ring you asking for stories.’

Connolly admits that the newspaper has been affected by revenue and cost pressures, but says it is even more committed to delivering good quality journalism: ‘We are trying not to fall into the churnalism trap of using just PR material by protecting investigative journalism at the paper.’

The paper is particularly keen to champion local and national causes and has a reputation for sticking up for its readers.

Peach PR MD Nikki Larkin backs this up: ‘The paper has recently been campaigning for fuel and grocery prices, personal security around Belfast, and activity at the Assembly, among others.’


Quick facts

Frequency Twice daily - Monday to Saturday
Circulation 75,694


Editor Martin Lindsay
Managing editor Paul Connolly
News editor Gerry Fitzgerald
Weekend magazine editor


Spotlight on a story Victoria Square shopping complex opens to fanfare

Billed as ‘the new social and cultural meeting point of a once divided city’, Belfast’s £400m Victoria Square shopping complex took eight years to plan and build. The initial coverage focused on the fact it would be one of the biggest regeneration schemes the country had ever seen, but as it neared completion, the press team started to build anticipation among shoppers.

The PR campaign started by releasing names to the Belfast and Northern Ireland press of the big stores that had bought space. In December 2006, the Belfast Telegraph revealed that 60 per cent of the units had been snapped up, with US fashion store Urban Outfitters the latest in a string of big names. In October 2007, the News Letter ran with the appointment of the centre’s manager Hugh Black, and revealed House of Fraser, Top Shop and H&M had grabbed slots in the 800,000 sq ft complex.

When the complex opened in March, the story dominated the mainstream news agenda as well as the fashion and retail pages, and even coverage of traffic jams around the site on the opening weekend caused by roadworks failed to dampen the buzz.

Nine months later the centre picked up Urban Regeneration Initiative of the Year title at the MAPIC Eg Retail Awards.

Top local businesses Harland and Wolff, Wrightbus

Coca-Cola Bottlers Ulster
Coca Cola Bottlers Ulster (CCBU) is a franchise of the Coca Cola Company based in Belfast. It is the only company in Northern Ireland licensed to produce and sell Coca-Cola products and has more than 400 employees. This year it picked up a silver CIPR PRide Award for its Designated Driver campaign.
Contact Myra Campbell, public affairs and comms manager, 028 9264 2266

Harland and Wolff
The shipbuilding company stands on Queen’s Island, in Belfast’s River Lagan. The company is most famous for having built the RMS Titantic. It has also branched out into developing Irish Sea offshore windfarm projects. It hit the headlines last month when it was announced a Titanic-themed tourist attraction is to be built in Belfast as part of a £250m investment.
Contact JPR 028 9076 0066

Wrightbus is the UK’s largest independent coach builder and is based in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. The company made the headlines this year by securing a £9.4m deal with Dublin Bus and £125m contract with First Group to build new vehicles. It was also appointed last year to produce 10 hydrogen-powered buses in time for the London 2012 Olympics.
028 2564 1212

Northern Bank
Northern Bank began in 1809 as a Belfast-based banking company known as the Northern Banking Partnership. In 2005 the Danish-based Danske Bank Group acquired the bank and has invested approximately £100m in Northern Bank.
028 9004 9470


Media snapshot

Magazines and newspapers

Irish News
Circulation 50,000
Frequency Monday-Saturday
Editor Noel Doran

News Letter
Circulation 26,199
Frequency Monday-Saturday
Editor Darwin Templeton


Cool FM
Found on 97.4 FM
Listeners 322,000 weekly
Presenters Peter Snodden,
Paul Kennedy, Sonya Mac
News editor Bob Huggens

Downtown Radio
Found on 97.1 FM
Listeners 238,000 weekly
Presenters Johnny Hero, Caroline Fleck, Dougie Marshall
News editor Bob Huggens

BBC Radio Ulster
Found on 92-95 FM
Presenters Alan Simpson, Andrew Verity
News editor KathleenCarragher


UTV Television
MD and controller of programmes Michael Wilson
Contact 028 9032 8122

BBC Northern Ireland
Controller of programmes Peter Johnston
Contact 028 9033 8000

Frequency Updated throughout the working day
Web hits 6.9 million per month
Online news editor Jerome Crolly
Contact 028 9026 4000


Masters of all trades

JPR and Morrow Communications are looking forward to a year of European success


JPR is still celebrating winning this year’s CIPR PRide Award for most outstanding PR consultancy in Northern Ireland for the second year.

The Belfast-based agency is the longest running PR consultancy in Northern Ireland, having been founded in 1976. It is currently headed up by MD Jane Wells, who has worked at the agency for 20 years, and director Joris Minne who joined in 2001.

The consultancy prize was not the agency’s only award of the night at the ceremony, which took place last month. The PR shop also took home three gold awards for its campaign work, including the launch of Ikea in Northern Ireland last December.

Wells believes the agency’s strength lies in media relations, which is illustrated by it taking home the gold award for this category for the third consecutive year.

‘Northern Ireland is a small place so consultancies tend to be generalists rather than specialists,’ says Wells. This is particularly true of JPR, whose clients include budget airline Flybe, Ulster Bank Group and
National Museums Northern Ireland.

The agency has also been involved in some of Northern Ireland’s biggest business transactions. It represented Eastwood Bookmakers’ £135m acquisition by Ladbrokes and it also worked for the Jennings family when it sold the Cromwell Hospital to BUPA earlier this year.

The agency isn’t only committed to Northern Ireland-based work, and represents companies across the UK. It supported a £90m Kendal development project in Cumbria this year and has just landed two new projects for a Europe-wide launch of a motor product and a US energy-from-waste power company.
Wells credits the loyalty and dedication of the team for the agency’s success.

‘Fifty per cent of the team have been here up to 20 years, while the other 50 per cent joined in the past seven years.’

At a glance

Three best campaigns of 2008 Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s; Ikea’s first year in Northern Ireland; and The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ launch of its manifesto
Significant hires of past 12 months Graduate trainee Chloe Elliott
Predicted growth Eight per cent
Plans for the next 12 months Further work in public affairs and growth into Europe


Morrow Communications

From bakeries to international economic investment conferences, via energy renewal firms, Morrow Communications’ client list boasts impressive variety. But it is typical of Northern Ireland’s growing PR industry, where agencies tend to be generalists rather than specialists.

Belfast-based Morrow is one of the country’s longest-running agencies. It was est-ablished in 1985 and earlier this year opened its first Dublin office. ‘We have always done all-Ireland business but this is to help Northern Ireland businesses wanting to expand south,’ explains director Dana McCusker.

The move south shows the agency’s plans for development. McCusker is also keen that the agency keeps promoting its environmental credentials into 2009, which she predicts will be a growth area for PR in the
region. ‘CSR is still a growing area in Northern Ireland and will continue to grow and be an important issue,’ she says. ‘We already secured a win earlier this year for Rose Energy, a company working in the renewable energy sector, and we want to keep growing in this area.’

The agency prides itself on sticking to its guns. Its website brandishes the statement: ‘We’re not yes people. We tell our clients what can be achieved, when it can be achieved and how we’ll do it... and we’re not afraid to challenge the brief.’

And this method must be working as the agency took home three gold awards at this year’s Northern Ireland CIPR PRide Awards.

While McCusker is optimistic for the year ahead, she remains cautious of how the current credit crunch will affect Northern Ireland’s PR industry. ‘We have our eye on growth but are aware of economic realities. We want to provide the best service for our clients and want to make sure that they see the value of PR in the whole marketing mix. We offer no excuses for not winning or losing business.’

People development remains high on the agency’s list of priorities: ‘We have a graduate programme, which is very important. It’s about motivating and cultivating them into people we want to retain.’

At a glance

Three best campaigns of 2008 Irwin’s Bakery; Proud to be Pat campaign; US:NI Conference; Rose Energy.
Significant hires of past 12 months Harriet Ashby, senior account manager who joined from Halpern PR to bolster consumer offering
Predicted fee income for 2008 £1.9m
Plans for the next 12 months Promote environmental credentials, continue investment in people

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