Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role.
I lead the Marketing and Pursuits function at KPMG Ireland, ultimately developing effective campaigns to continuously secure and improve on our brand position and drive growth. In marketing, we strive to promote our people, services and experience in an innovative way, protecting our brand and reputation. On pursuits, we work with client teams to develop a tailored approach to improve our win probability.
In terms of my day-to-day role, it’s quite varied. On any given day, I input on multiple campaigns, across a number of sectors and quite often with a global aspect. I enjoy the creative aspects of sponsorship activation and the competitiveness of pursuits. I work with people across the creative, data, insights, communications and pursuits teams, all of whom are the very best at what they do. I’m sure you’ll agree that people who work in marketing tend to perform well under pressure whilst still having fun, and this creates a positive environment.
I’m lucky as KPMG is a great place to work, and the value that marketing brings is very much respected. As a firm, we recognise the position of trust we hold and the importance of maintaining good relationships with regulators and business stakeholders. We’re proud of our commitment to the wellbeing of our communities and skills-based volunteering is actively encouraged across the firm. It’s nice to see how taking some time out of your day to help others can really make a difference.
I’m originally from Dungloe in Donegal, but I’ve lived in Dublin for almost 10 years. When I’m not working, I enjoy travelling, visiting family and friends all over the world. I love skiing and water sports and I’m an avid GAA fan. I’m also in the KPMG tennis society which is great fun. There’s endless banter amongst the different groups.
Why did you choose a career in marketing?
A combination of upbringing, education, being a keen organiser and a people person together with broad work experience in my younger adult life helped me to choose a career in marketing.
I grew up in a busy household. My parents were involved in multiple businesses over the years and they also ran a 10-day festival with national sponsors such as Guinness, Opel and Aer Lingus. From a very young age I gained invaluable exposure to a broad range of marketing activities, from orchestrating media interviews to putting in the hard yards on event management of conferences, concerts and corporate hospitality. It was great!
Later I studied Business and Accounting at the University of Ulster in Derry. While studying, I held a variety of different part-time jobs. The experiences I gained from these jobs led me to realise that I wanted a role with lots of variety and where I could use my organisational skills, but which was people-focused. I’m very much a people person.
In the early part of my career, I worked with the Department of Cultural Development at the University of Ulster. There, I had the pleasure of working on a number of programmes with senior political leaders and at a time when the city welcomed international dignitaries, including Bill Clinton and Kofi Annan.
Later I broadened my marketing experience at The Foyle Film Festival before going to work for a sports marketing agency in Melbourne, which was very exciting.
I returned to Dublin and completed a post-grad in PR and Event Management, then started up my own business - Storm PM. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed this entrepreneurial spell in my career, unfortunately the downturn in the Irish economy at the time meant that most businesses had their marketing budgets cut, so opportunity for growth was limited for a marketing agency in the North West.
I moved into Professional Services 9 years ago and it’s gone from strength to strength really. I’ve worked at KPMG since July 2017 and the role really brings together my commercial experience across marketing consulting, business development, event management and sponsorship activation. The role of data in marketing has evolved hugely in that time and I get a kick out of seeing tangible results on key campaigns.
In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge marketers are facing today and how would you tackle it?
I believe the biggest challenge for marketers remains to be the task of designing a tailored solution every time when almost every industry and issue is different. Your client base will typically be very broad, each with a different need, a different personality and different buying power. In some industries, marketers are expected to ‘magic up’ a solution, often with limited time and even less information on what it is they’re trying to achieve. In order to tackle this, you need to have the very best of resources and expertise in your team or through external agencies.
I also think that some businesses fail to fully recognise the value of effective branding both as an external platform for positioning and an internal platform to hold the culture of the organisation together and motivate employees. Here, it’s critical to have a marketing voice in the boardroom. This ensures that your marketing agenda aligns with the overall strategy and also helps to manage expectations of the board.
What advice would you give to someone starting a career in marketing?
Typically, marketers possess a ‘can do’ attitude, coupled with a commercial mindset. If they don’t, they generally don’t succeed. My top tips for starting out are:
1. Try to get as much varied experience as possible early on in your career and ask a lot of questions so you’re clear in your role about what you’re trying to achieve and why.
2. Where possible, work with or for the best people i.e. those who are already successful in their field.
3. Stay close to the marketplace to remain current and creative. Be curious. Look into brands that impress you and think about why. Also, consider different campaigns and ask yourself what exactly attracts you to them and why they’re so effective.
What makes a great marketer?
In recent years, I feel there’s been too much emphasis on having hard skills as a marketer. The real challenge is in possessing softer skills, such as thinking outside the box, being creative, and being good with people. It’s essential that you have that balance.
Good marketers have an ability to continuously adapt, as the buyer typically changes. As a result, they must find new ways to engage effectively and bring the client on the journey with them.
Lastly, be careful how you communicate. Marketing is quite straightforward so it’s important to communicate in a straightforward manner too.
What is your favourite marketing campaign of all time? Why?
I’ve always been impressed by Red Bull’s entry to the market and how they quickly managed to compete with Coca Cola and Pepsi. They targeted pubs in the first instance, enabling them to compete at a higher price than competitors and their packaging was hassle-free for distributors and customers. They hired students as reps for on-campus penetration and what’s more, the brand positioned itself in a way that suggested it could increase performance, thereby flipping a negative sugar connotation to achieve a performance-enhancing mindset. This was very clever!
They commissioned a substantial advertising campaign early on and later switched to experiential marketing through sponsorship of extreme sports. I think that’s proven to be very effective for them.
Closer to home, I love being involved in the 20x20 campaign, which aims to encourage greater participation, attendance and media coverage of girls and women in sport. KPMG is a primary sponsor and we’re very proud to support a campaign that drives a real cultural shift in society, counteracting the inherent unconscious bias towards women in sport. This campaign is smashing targets and genuinely encouraging women and particularly, young girls to become more involved in sport which is fantastic. It’s great for Ireland to lead the charge in this space and the interest in the campaign from other countries across the globe is phenomenal so watch this space.
Where do you look for professional inspiration?
There are lots of good books and TED talks on marketing-related topics, which generally provide inspiration. The last marketing book I read was CX by Brian Solis. But typically, I keep an eye on what’s happening in the industry through the likes of Forbes.