The Marketing Institute: What does an Independent PR and Marketing Practitioner do?
Michele Filippi: I became an Independent PR & Marketing Consultant in 2003. I had just returned to Belfast after several years working in Dublin, first as an Account Director for a PR Agency specialising in corporate and agri-business and then in-house as Group Communications Manager for UDV Ireland Group, (now part of Diageo Ireland.)
The perspective gained on both sides of the agency table gave me the impetus to set up MF Communication. I wanted to offer a different service experience for clients, an experience that would be based on a consistent, close working relationship with a senior, professional adviser but with access to a seamless network of additional and complementary experts as and when required.
Working in-agency gave me a breadth of industry knowledge across a diverse range of business sectors. The in-house experience with a world-leading global plc, renowned for its world-class brand marketing, was invaluable in growing my knowledge and expertise in marketing communications.
Armed with this specialist knowledge and great contacts especially in the B2B, agri-food and professional services sectors, I leverage these in what I do for clients. Today I am helping global brands and plc’s, as well as not-for-profits and local businesses on various PR and marketing strategies and programmes, from corporate social responsibility and sponsorships to brand reputation management, media relations and stakeholder engagement. I offer access to a network of specialist associates on an all-island and pan-UK basis; collaborating across borders and across-disciplines on my client’s behalf. I help them tackle the challenges and opportunities of communicating with key audiences in today’s complex media environment.
MII: What were your key career moves to get to your current role?
M.F: After graduating from Queen’s University with an Honours Degree in English Literature and Italian, I knew I wanted to work in a business environment where I could use my flair for writing. Public Relations and Marketing offered that creative outlet. I gained a post-graduate Certificate in PR, Advertising and Marketing and became a trainee with my first employer in the growing NI PR industry. As I climbed the career ladder I obtained the Chartered Institute of Marketing Diploma and progressed to Account Director with an international PR agency.
The move to Dublin was extremely valuable in developing a wider network of contacts and the chance to work with larger organisations and across markets. Moving in house and joining UDV was a fantastic experience. My role encompassed internal communications within the context of the business organisational change and HR strategy and external communications as well as global PR strategy for the Baileys brand.
The relocation to Belfast for family reasons was the nudge I needed to leave the corporate world and go out on my own.
MII: What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?
M.F: Working for yourself can be challenging in so many ways. You have to multi-task and be multi-skilled. The communications industry has changed vastly over the past decade. You need to be constantly on your toes, proactively keeping your professional skills and competency up to date for the clients you are advising. At the same time, you must know how to run a business and develop it for the longer term. Tapping into a good professional network means we can lift the phone and meet for a coffee to bounce ideas around and work through solutions for clients. The service sector has had its up’s and down’s, so you must learn to withstand peaks and troughs and manage demand with capacity. I run a lean, agile and flexible business so it is easier to adapt.
MII: What key skills do you need to be effective in your role?
M.F: Without stating the obvious, communication skills; strategic thinking; creativity grounded in sound marketing insight; a thick skin; self-reliance and finally discipline and drive. There’s no sick pay, annual leave or a steady pay cheque at the end of the month. It’s all down to me. But that’s what makes it so rewarding.
MII: Describe a typical working day.
M.F: Unless there is something urgent I have to do for a client, first thing, I will catch up on news, media coverage and the issues and topics I am monitoring. I’ll progress client projects during the course of the day. This might include meetings with clients or suppliers, attending events or photo-calls, writing and organising future activities; liaising on the phone. I also have to try and schedule time for my own PR and marketing otherwise it’s a case of the cobbler’s children going barefoot. I’ve been working on a new website and I enjoy writing stories for the blog. I’m also Secretary of the Guild of Agricultural Journalists so I am involved in co-ordinating events for members as well as attending them. We get to visit some great agri-food companies such as Mash Direct and the All-Ireland AGM was held at Aldi’s distribution headquarters outside Dublin. One of the perks of being self-employed means I can see my sons when they finish school – even if it’s for 5 minutes to put the kettle on before I go back to the office.
MII: What do you love most about your role?
M.F: I love the variety that a consultancy role provides. I get great satisfaction from seeing a job come to fruition for a client and producing the results we set out to achieve. I am very fortunate to be doing something for a living that I love. I have managed to overcome a lot of my insecurity about being self-employed. I have learned to embrace the flexibility and scope it gives me for self-fulfilment.
MII: Looking ahead, where might your career path lead to next?
M.F: I am enjoying what I am doing so I will be continuing to develop and evolve MF Communication. Maintaining my Accredited Practitioner status with the CIPR helps me keep my skills, expertise and professional practice up to date and relevant. I am always on the look-out for strategic alliances and the opportunity to collaborate with the right kind of people who can complement what I do for the benefit of clients. I am also always interested to hear from new clients who are looking for a fresh approach to their PR & marketing.
MII: To whom do you look for professional inspiration in your role?
M.F: Firstly, I have been inspired by the female business owners that I worked for early on in my career. They were talented, creative women who had the courage to set up their own businesses and helped me progress. My husband is a great mentor. As a senior HR professional, he’s had lots of practice at listening and coaching. He helps me work through problems and reach decisions. But perhaps most of all clients inspire me. They set the challenges, they provide the opportunities and when you are fortunate enough to work with clients who give you the freedom to achieve within agreed parameters, you really can flourish in your role.
To get in touch with Michele visit www.mfcommunication.net or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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