GAA commercial and Croke Park stadium director Peter McKenna has been named Marketer of the Year for his leadership in developing both brands into world class entities and for driving the national sports body’s commercial objectives across a range of sponsorships, loyalty programmes, media rights franchises and merchandising deals at home and overseas.

A chemical engineering graduate from UCD, McKenna heads up a team which includes stadium marketing manager Julie Manahan and GAA Games marketing manager Rebecca Hocking. Before joining Croke Park in 2001, he was chief executive of Smurfit Publications and iVenus. He is a former director of the Periodical Publishers Association in the UK.

McKenna’s marketing challenge was to reverse a trend where three in every ten GAA fans were attending fewer games due to the recession and competition from competing sports. McKenna and his team devised a strategy to strengthen the GAA brand, drive ticket sales, maximise participation in football and hurling at all levels and target corporate Ireland.

Plans were put in place to increase business use of Croke Park Conference Centre and entice visitors to the stadium’s attractions. Understanding that supporters are the GAA’s bedrock, a strategy was developed to mobilise fans to support their teams and push the message that gaelic games are a part of our heritage and a tribal sounding call for all communities.

After an agency pitch process, Brand Union was appointed to handle the GAA rebrand. Target McConnells handles all of the GAA/Croke Park’s creative advertising and media buying and planning is with Maxus.

Croke Park needed to be marketed as playful and creative, but also purposeful and commercial. To help it compete with the big European stadia, the Etihad Skyline rooftop tour was launched and has attracted 23,000 visitors in just over a year. The Experience stadium tour and the GAA Museum prompted the ‘Croke Park Make It Epic’ slogan to be coined.

Press ads for the GAA Football Championship espoused the ‘Nothing beats being there’ message. The Allianz hurling and football leagues ran the line ‘Unexpect the Expected’ and the AIB GAA Club Championships had ‘For the Love of the Club’. Fans flocked to games with almost 1.4 million attendances in 2012 and this year saw a further 10 per cent rise.

Nearly half of those interested in the GAA are aware fans can now buy tickets from sponsors Centra and SuperValu. Season ticket sales increased by 15 per cent this year. Croke Park has won several industry events awards in the past two years. Under the ‘Epic’ platform, last year’s budget was surpassed by 2.8 per cent and this year by as much as 12 per cent.

GAA Museum & Stadium Tour numbers were up by 65 per cent to 108,000 since 2008. Croke Park played host to the Eucharistic Congress, the One Direction concert and the Digital Summit. This year’s other three Marketer of the Year finalists were Tom Keogh, Keogh’s Crisps; John Concannon and Jim Miley, The Gathering and Emma Walls, Glenisk.

John Fanning Lifetime Achievement


Peter McKenna was instrumental in developing the GAA’s Cul Camps, with over 80,000 participants and 40 per cent of registrations taking place online. The camps are promoted on over five million Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Rice Krispies boxes from April to August.

Tom Keogh, general manager, Keogh’s Crisps

Tom Keogh is from a farming family in north county Dublin dating back several generations. While the Keoghs have grown many varieties of fruit and vegetables, they are best known for their potatoes. At the end of 2011, Keoghs decided to branch out by turning top grade potatoes into luxury potato crisps. Keogh’s Crisps now has a 25 per cent share of the category. It has contracts with the major stores, not least Superquinn. Keogh’s focus is now on exports, especially Germany.

“The crisps business was my idea. It was a risk, but it has worked” – Tom Keogh

John Concannon, creator and Jim Miley, chief co-ordinator, The Gathering

The idea of The Gathering was to harness goodwill and support from three main groups – Irish people at home, the 17 million Irish diaspora and non-Irish people who love the country – and to promote tourism by way of national and community events. It kicked off with the Navy v Notre Dame American football game in September last year. Since then, there have been 5,000 new events and visitor numbers from the major markets are well up on previous years.

“The Gathering is the democratisation of tourism” – John Concannon.

Emma Walls, marketing director, Glenisk

Emma Walls was hired by Glenisk to develop a strategy to help grow the brand’s market share in the Irish dairy products market, a category dominated by brand heavyweights. Faced with a low level of brand awareness versus Muller, Danone and Yoplait and with the yogurt market in decline, the former Ogilvy executive set about increasing consumers awareness of Glenisk through partnerships and key influencers, NPD and communicating the brand’s USPs of local and organic.

“In marketing, you need to be brave – Glenisk did so by going organic and milking goats”

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