On Wednesday 20th February, eager students gathered to hear a variety of talks by CIPR Northern Ireland PRide winners showcasing their award winning campaigns. They were set for a highly informative conference. The room was booming with inspiration with representatives from private agencies and also the public sector.
Jane Williams, brand communications director for JComms, spoke first, explaining how they had won the best use of media award generated for the Titanic Hotel construction and launch. She first settled any ambivalent feelings students had about it, by placing prominence on community throughout the campaign and building amicable relationships with those who had ties to the Titanic Hotel Belfast. They faced a huge brief but persevered and dove deeply into history focusing on the authenticity of the Titanic. They were research focused so they could be well informed. Jane gave valuable insight on how to prevent media fatigue for launching big events.
Following on as Gold Award winners in the community relations category, Sasha McKnight from ASG & Partners raised momentum again with her opening quote “We do great things and we can prove it”. ASG set the bar high with M&S to capture the milestone of 50 years since its first store in Northern Ireland opened. They took on 50 projects in such a short space of time. Sasha tenaciously reiterated that their focused approach highlighted the importance of going back to objectives. Stating they had to unearth new meaning for coverage in Northern Ireland, she felt that stakeholder engagement was key to a successful campaign.
The theme of building strong local ties through human interest stories was brought to life by Bryony Chapman of Massive PR (the outstanding small consultancy winner), who faced the brief of repositioning the Basketball Belfast classic as a world class event. She spoke of strategies used to optimise media coverage to build awareness for the Belfast classic and the Sport Changes Life Foundation. Bryony gave us great insight into managing media relations which was the epitome for a successful campaign. Charlotte Goss of Clearbox described in detail their spirited campaign with Bushmills Irish whiskey and how they transitioned the traditional image of Irish whiskey for younger people. The stellar results of their research showed that 76% of young people from 25-35 years of age hadn’t answered their call and were not doing what they loved. They transformed this statistic into a campaign by #AnswerTheCall. This campaign brought to the forefront the sheer power in partnering with local creatives.The CIPR NI’s young communicator of the year, Brittany Breslin, stressed the importance to students of internships and gaining experience within the industry. She emphasised that networking was valuable to those entering the industry.
Next came a speaker from the public sector. Ruth Rogers, head of communications for Southern Health & Social Care Trust (winner of the issues, crisis and reputation management category), described in detail the crisis facing her team with the Emergency Department of Newry’s Daisy Hill hospital and the possible threat of reduced hours. Ruth exposed the bones and mechanisms behind the strategy used which placed community participation on a pedestal as it was the key to the success of the project. Ruth instilled in us that creativity is at the forefront in public sector communications.
To conclude the conference, Johnny Stewart from Weber Shandwick outlined their award winning low budget campaign with “Supporting People” who provide accommodation for the elderly, homeless, young people and those with disabilities. This campaign called for almost £3 million of funding to be returned to 80+ providers of the Supporting People programme. Johnny informed us about the “media kits” that were introduced and numerous guides produced for the SP providers, ensuring they equipped the SP providers in the best way possible. They managed to see £2.6 million of that funding returned. It hit home to the students how PR plays a pivotal role in peoples’ day to day lives and not just ostentatiously in the world of influencing.
To the students’ delight there was a great mix of solid campaigns. It gave us the students, plenty of scope and food for thought for a career in public relations. The conference showed that the world is your oyster when it comes to public relations and that it will be impactful and exciting whatever career path you choose.
Catherine Mockler is an MSc in Communication and Public Relations student at Ulster University, and a student member of the CIPR Northern Ireland committee. She can be found at: LinkedIn – https://ie.linkedin.com/in/catherine-mockler-01b40b94.