While our chefs, producers, drinks makers and cocktail shakers are well-known names in the Irish food scene they often need a helping hand to get their message across to the masses. The saying goes “behind every great man is a great woman”, and that woman in question is none other than PR powerhouse Olivia Collins. Olivia is the force behind Food PR, a communications agency that works with people within the food industry to grow their business.
Speaking to Olivia on the phone she tells me she “accidentally fell into PR”, a happy accident that has turned out extremely well. “My background is marketing and I was a marketing manager for a number of different businesses after college. From there I went into general management.” At the age of just 28 she had 70 staff members working underneath her in a management role. She admits she had “lost touch” with what she really loved which was the marketing side. “So between one thing and another I ended up meeting my original business partner.”
Olivia’s first foray into running her own company was with this business partner. Those Two Girls PR was started in 2004 and focused on PR, marketing and event management. “As that started to evolve it became focused on the PR element of it and eventually I bought my business partner out in 2006. At the time there was such an opening for PR.” She laughs; “I just thought I’d give it a go, and I’ve been giving it a go since 2006.”
It was about nine years ago the company decided to focus solely on food PR. “We had developed a really great portfolio. That was when we started working with our first chef. We worked with food brands before that but they were more consumer driven. We’ve been working with JP since 2010 and from that, we’ve just grown outwards.”
The passion that our clients have is infectious”
Olivia works with some of the biggest names in the industry including Bryan McCarthy, Dylan McGrath and Andy McFadden to name a few. Not forgetting JP McMahon, the pair have been instrumental in creating Food on the Edge, Ireland’s biggest food symposium. I ask Olivia if working with such established names in the business is ever intimidating. Olivia doesn’t feel that pressure as she builds up close relationships with all her clients. “Once you build up trust with a client chefs can be very loyal and you nearly become part of the family.”
Continuing on she says; “I’m nearly facilitating a coaching space. We’re really working alongside the client and to develop their business objective and from that we build our PR campaigns.”
While Olivia’s name is now synonymous with the Irish food industry, how did she take that leap to open her own business and be the woman running the show? “My parents were business people, my uncles and aunts all had their own businesses. In school, if there was ever a tuck shop to be run I was there. Even my guidance counsellors said I’d be a great entrepreneur but I didn’t know what to study.”
Business was always in my DNA”
“It was always going to be a case of me running my own business but what was it going to be?” So with those wheels set in motion, she then had to decide what career path she would take. Speaking about choosing PR she says “I loved the communications side of it and how businesses communicate.”
In today’s modern world, we can see the effects that social media can have on a business and how companies can use it to increase their presence and customer base. “When I started in 2004 there was no social media, it’s unbelievable to think we didn’t have that as a tool!” A new venture Olivia has begun is Food Social, a company solely focused on building social media campaigns for businesses.
“As social media evolved I studied with the digital marketing institute. I could see how the world of communications was moving and it was really exciting and really interested me. I think communication is core to a business’s success. If you have an operationally sound business but you’re not communicating to your customers it’s always going to be a stumbling block.”
Speaking about Food Social, she says it’s something that has been in the works for the last few years. “Our clients had the press releases and images but things weren’t being rolled out online so we took over for a while. Because our campaigns were doing so well, clients asked if we could take it over full time. Food PR was really growing and it’s grown a lot over the last five years. We were getting more and more clients who just wanted a social media service with the odd bit of PR down the line. The fact that we can now have Food Social as a stand-alone agency our clients don’t need to have a PR package.”
“We’ve almost stopped calling ourselves a PR agency and more a communications agency. With Food Social we do a social media audit on a business. So we look at their website and their social presence, we check if they’re all cohesive.”
Talking to Olivia I can hear her passion for her work oozing through the phone, and my next question may be a tough one to answer. Does she have a favourite part of her work? She doesn’t hesitate too long before answering. “Be it a new or an existing client, we have quarterly meetings and I love sitting down with them and asking ‘what are your key messages and objectives?’. It’s like the client hasn’t really thought about that for a while, and you’re with them teasing it out and you can see that excitement building. It’s that whole space of being very pragmatic which then kicks off the creative approach.”
For me personally, it’s inspiring to see such a hard working woman in the industry doing so well. Often the food industry can be a very male-dominated place but that doesn’t mean us girls aren’t here and working tirelessly. Having spent 15 years in business Olivia is now sharing her wealth of knowledge with other women; “I do mentoring and coaching as well. I’m coaching two women pro bono at the moment.” Speaking about the role of women in the food industry she says, “we might not always be chefs but we’re still very much part of the industry and making it what it is.” Olivia began her career balancing life as a single mother while building an empire, and she believes it’s important to support women like this, hence why she is now coaching others.
I ask if there are any women in the industry she admires, and one name jumps out, Ruth Hegarty. Ruth runs Egg & Chicken, an agency specialising in food policy, project management and business development. Speaking about Ruth, Olivia says, “she is the hardest working woman I’ve come across. She’s an absolute mine of information, she’s inspiring and she’s aspiring. She’s been such a huge support to me, I don’t think I would have gotten to where I am today if it wasn’t for Ruth.”
Looking back over her colourful career one (of many) stand out moments includes holding a press conference for Massimo Boturra as part of Food on the Edge. She tells me “we had a lot of national and international press at that. Also, my birthday coincides with Food on the Edge and JP McMahon brought me up on stage and I had over 300 people singing happy birthday to me!”
Looking to the future Olivia has no plans of stopping any time soon. “We’ve taken a very gradual approach to building Food PR, growing the team and having the right people has been a really organic process.” She has been “growing the business steadily so it’s sustainable.”
While this new project has just been launched Olivia is full of passion and positivity; “The Food Social side is in its infancy, and I feel like that has so much potential and is about to kick off.” With a woman like Olivia at the helm, her new and future ventures will undoubtedly be a roaring success, much like herself.
Sinéad is a Culinary Arts graduate from DIT. She is a passionate cook with a love of fine dining and modern Irish cuisine. A gin lover, Sinéad loves seeking out cosy new pubs and sampling a variety of craft beers.
If she’s not dining out, Sinéad loves travelling the world exploring new cultures and cuisines. Working with TheTaste allows Sinéad to fully immerse herself in the Irish food industry.