Pulse PR’s Grainne McGarvey sits down with Ulster Business at the Fitzwilliam Hotel in Belfast to chat about marking 10 years in business amid an evolving media landscape, growing from strong entrepreneurial family roots and the next step in her company’s journey
A bold decision a decade ago to go out on her own and establish Pulse PR has seen Grainne McGarvey work with a range of clients to help sell their message to a wider audience.
In the last few years Pulse PR has worked with clients include Applegreen, during the roll-out of its first stores in Northern Ireland, jewellery retailer Argento that has over 50 high street stores in Ireland and one of Ireland’s most iconic gift wear brands, Belleek.
And with a business spirit which has helped take root due to her father’s own entrepreneurial background, Grainne’s developed her own firm over the last 10 years – growing with the changing media landscape, creating communications and marketing strategies, working with tech start-ups from the ground up and building on strong media relationships.
“For seven years I had worked with PR agencies and businesses such as Barclays, Tayto and Tesco. I was approaching 30 and I decided it was now or never,” she told Ulster Business.
Networking at Down Royal Racecourse with a pocket full of business cards saw her leave with three clients, and from that, the business was born.
Although Pulse PR was initially centred around work with public relations and press, Grainne now works with a lot of start-ups, particularly those within tech – her business is also based at Catalyst, formerly the Northern Ireland Science Park, which is the largest technology park here.
One of those she’s now working closely with is IRP Commerce – a £3m turnover software development company which made it on to Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 list of high growth technology companies seven times.
“That relationship started eight years ago with a press release, and now I work with them to target retailers, manufacturers and distributors across the UK, promoting its e-commerce platform at national conferences and building strategic relationships with key players in the e-commerce industry. When I started it was very traditional PR, and dealing with newspapers and magazines. Now, it’s also grown further into the digital sphere with online PR, blogging and video testimonials.
“I’ve seen a big shift in how my time is spent from when I started 10 years ago. Although clients still value print coverage, there is definitely a demand to create engaging campaigns for social media.
“Because of how the world is changing, I have had to diversify as well. It’s about being flexible and realising the developing trends, and trying to adapt. I’ve always been comfortable in front of the camera or with a microphone in my hand so turned this into a business opportunity to host events, commentate on radio or host panels at tech conferences – there is an under-representation of women in this sector so it’s a gap I believe I fill.”
As a self-employed businesswoman, Grainne extends her reach with clients by collaborating with freelance photographers, designers and videographers.
“You have to get results for your clients. I purposely keep my client list manageable so I’m not competing against myself and I can broaden the scope of activity I do for them,” she says.
Grainne also works with Catalyst on its Springboard programme as a marketing domain expert, giving start-up companies assistance when they are bringing their product to market.
She says most of her clients come through referrals from other companies she’s been involved with. “Referrals are great as it means I’ve done a good job for the person referring me. I also find a lot of work comes from people I have previously worked with or went to school with. Northern Ireland is known for having two degrees of separation – this also applies in the business world.”
She’s also been working with the Ulster Farmers’ Union this year to help promote the organisation’s Open Farm Weekend. It’s an initiative, sponsored by Bank of Ireland UK, to allow members of the public to pay a visit to a farm for the first time. “This is a new sector for me, but the principles are the same – find out the end user and then apply the right marketing tools to engage with them.
“It’s about fitting in with a company and how that business thinks – being adaptable and working out what they want, and trying to help them grow. It’s about presenting a strong and clear message, developing strong media contacts and also working across digital and print media to boost reach.”
In 10 years, the media and PR landscape has evolved, including how information is consumed. “But I’m still a firm believer in knowing the basics,” she says. “It’s about having the experience and the education to be able to do it. After my degree and Master’s, I studied to gain additional post-graduate qualifications from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. I’m a firm believer in life-long learning. Too many people starting in the industry think all the need is a smartphone and an Instagram account.
“It’s competitive, but there’s always enough business for everyone out there. You really just need a few clients and then you turn your focus to them, as well as working with others as and when they come. A few projects naturally ended last year so I’ll be expanding my client list in the coming months. It’s always exciting to start with a new company or entrepreneur.
“It’s about being flexible and being aware of what is going on with your clients, and being proactive. Being a sole-trader means you are flexible and can work closely with companies, either in their office or remotely as an extended member of their marketing team. I have often thought about employing more staff, but I believe clients want to see me working on their account, rather than meeting me at the pitch and then being passed over to a junior member of staff.
“There’s a great satisfaction in helping an innovative small business, which is set for bigger things, and working alongside them in getting their message out there, building, growing and creating jobs. You really want to work with them and help build their business.
“It’s about building the relationships and contacts, and that’s something you can’t teach. People buy from people and I believe one of the reasons I have kept many of the same clients for 10 years is because I always go the extra mile and am true to my word.”
Grainne’s desire 10 years ago to go it alone with Pulse PR is something she says is very much part of the family story.
“My father Malachy is an entrepreneur, a mechanic by trade, but he’s always been able to turn his hand to everything,” she says. My sister Orla was also self-employed as a pharmacist. I’ve been brought up in that environment and we’ve always had support and a ‘can do’ attitude from our mother Geraldine. I had a baby, Gabriel, four months ago but didn’t get the option to take maternity leave. This is the downside of being self-employed, but the flipside means I can work from home when I need to.”
As for the next 10 years, Grainne says it’s about trying to give something back, using her skills to help those who have little or no experience in knowing how to bring their message and products to the fore. “I’m still as passionate about business as I was 10 years ago. I’m excited to see how I can continue to use my skills to add value to clients to ensure their message and their voice is heard.”