Profile: Nicky O’Reilly, Meat and Livestock Commission - Dishing up the meat industry/Nicky O’Reilly prepares to get her teeth into the beleaguered meat market

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 and steak.

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 and

steak.



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 year.



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

welfare.



’We have to communicate that the industry does care about animals,’ she

says.



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

around.



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 in.



HIGHLIGHTS

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



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