60 Seconds with Gemma Oakes, Mercieca

Gemma Oakes, director at Mercieca, talks about sport and lifestyle PR and its closeness to FMCG. In the aftermath of the Olympics, she shares her own favourite sports to watch and play.

Gemma Oakes 1

Gemma Oakes

How did you end up specialising in sport and lifestyle PR?
I actually started my career in music and entertainment 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 and 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. I’m passionate about getting kids into sport, and utilising elite athletes to help get kids active.

What’s unique about the sector?
I think it’s becoming less unique. More sporting bodies are starting to employ people with an FMCG background, utilising their insights and approach to 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’s your ideal client/brief?
The ideal client brief is one that has a clear problem, but is open to what the solution might be. Our team are problem solvers, so as long as the client knows what it is they’re looking to fix, we can help them identify audience, channels and creative ideas – all executed brilliantly. Saying that though, we like to work as part of our client’s team, so are frequently helping them to identify the problem and craft the brief together.

What changes do you see taking place in the PR industry?
Clients want things faster, and 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 a firm part of the PR mix, so demands on PR agencies have 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 it’s even more challenging because it requires us as PR professionals to have a broader set of  skills.

How is Mercieca responding to those changes?
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, or even a new website.

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 fully 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 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 in its journey a brand might be, free of jargon and waffle!

What sports do you enjoy outside of work – to watch or 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.

  • Are you working in an interesting or unusual PR role? Do you have strong views on the industry that you want to share with the Gorkana community? If so, please contact Emily Andrews.
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