How did you end up specialising in sport and lifestyle PR?
I started my career in music and entertainment PR after a very brief stint as a freelance music journalist. It led me to a sports sponsorship agency, and from there to Mercieca where I started introducing sport to what was predominantly a food & drink portfolio. There’s a clear link between FMCG brands and sport, and I was able to introduce grassroots and sports partnerships to a number of our clients, as well as scooping Puma’s PR across football, rugby, cricket and running. I’m passionate about getting kids into sport, and utilising elite athletes to help getting kids active.
What's unique about the sector?
I think it’s actually becoming less unique. More sporting bodies are starting to employ people with an FMCG background, utilising their insights and approach into sales and the retail landscape on and offline. Probably the most unique thing is the fact that it’s not in every job that you get to occasionally meet one of your heroes!
What changes do you see taking place in the PR industry?
Clients want things faster and more and more, they want to see an integrated approach. It’s not just about books of coverage, it’s about genuine results that make a difference to a brand. Social is now firmly part of the PR mix, so the scope and demands on PR agencies has broadened. Integrated thinking and the ability to create brilliant content is key. It means PR agencies have to be even more creative and have the ability to produce the content quickly. It’s good for the industry, as PR now has to be fully integrated with the rest of the marketing mix (and vice-versa), as opposed to working in isolation (which it has had a tendency to do in the past). For me, it’s exciting that PR is evolving and even more challenging because it requires us as PR professionals to have broader/all-round skill-sets.
How is Mercieca responding to those changes?
Because many of our clients want work quicker, we’ve geared up our business to be even more flexible. Brands aren’t always looking for one creative solution, so as an integrated agency we’re able to find the right solution to suit their need – whether it’s PR, social, experiential, an advertising or in-store campaign, even a new website. We try and keep things simple and ensure that we have a team of experts across various sectors and skill sets to suit all types of creative brief. We have a simple three step approach – we do our homework (insight led strategies), create great ideas and execute them brilliantly!
We don’t see ourselves as just a “PR agency” because we now run a fully integrated agency, We’ve always had an extensive creative services team in house but in truth, in the past, we were structured as, effectively, two different departments – a PR agency and a creative services agency. Over recent months we’ve full integrated the teams and adapted to a much more collaborative way of working and won some big new clients because of it. It’s this approach that has made it easier for us to work quicker, and genuinely be geared up to be more flexible.
How can the industry raise its standards/improve?
The PR industry is in a good place. There’s always room to improve and there are always going to be some really strong PR shops – some more famous than others. There’s definitely room for us all, but there’s still a little too much fluff for my liking at times. We’re consultants, so we should be straight talking, we should demonstrate business acumen and we should be smart enough to ensure we’re delivering for brands. Too frequently we have companies approaching us who have had their fingers burnt by an agency who didn’t deliver. We ensure that if for any reason an idea, or approach isn’t working, we’re open with our clients to ensure that we can review it, fix it and then deliver. We talk honestly about budgets, media expectation and where the journey the brand might be on. Free of jargon and waffle!
What sports do you enjoy outside of work (to watch or to play)?
Off the back of an amazing Olympics I think I can watch almost any sport. I’m a huge rugby and football fan, but also really enjoy watching cycling and swimming. The gymnastics in Rio was amazing! Personally though, outside of just watching it, I enjoy going swimming and have done since I was very young. I find it incredible that over 50% of kids in the UK today can’t swim – hence the drive to get more brands involved in grassroots sports.
To read the interview in full head to http://www.gorkana.com/2016/08/60-seconds-with-gemma-oakes-mercieca/