Pieta House CEO named top marketer

Brian Higgins is no ordinary marketer. In fact, one could question if he should qualify at all when you consider what is most widely regarded as the traditional purpose of marketing. Yet when the Marketer of the Year judges came to making a final decision on this year’s three final candidates, they could not deny the coveted award to Pieta House’s chief executive.

Higgins is the person responsible for driving the charity’s strategy in helping to prevent suicide. The judges described Pieta House’s achievements as “one of the most compelling pieces of work” they have seen in Irish marketing in recent years – a brand whose ultimate ambition is essentially to go out of business in the hope its services will no longer be needed.

Pieta House provides a face-to-face, free therapeutic service for people in the acute stages of suicidal distress or self-harming. The charity has 240 psychotherapists working six days a week in its 15 therapy centres across the country, supporting 5,500 people. Its challenge is a stark one – to eradicate suicide, which, in 2014 and 2015, claimed 850 lives in Ireland.

Higgins and his team believes that none of these deaths should have happened and the aim is to reduce the number to zero. Reflecting the scale of the challenge, it is only three years ago that official figures showed that there were 500 deaths through suicide every year in Ireland,  and even these high numbers are likely to be an under representation of the true figures.

There is an average of at least ten suicides a week. Almost three times as many people die from suicide each year than by road deaths. Ultimately, the ambition is to empower Irish society to take ownership of the issue and the stigmas surrounding suicide. To encourage people to access its services, it was essential that the charity’s funding revenue increased.

Costs in delivering Pieta House services to new and existing communities had increased. Added to that, the extra fundraising activity was happening at a time when the reputation of charities was at a low ebb due, not least the well-publicised issues at Console. On becoming chief executive in 2015, Higgins saw its Darkness Into Light event as having huge potential.

Darkness Into Light, left, needed a revamp, to change it from an event into a national movement.

By doing so, Higgins contended, suicide could become an open conversation heard far and wide. It required a strategic rethink on how the existing structures could be rebuilt to support and grow a global movement for to educate people about suicide prevention.

Pieta House aims to replace suicide, self-harm and stigma with hope, self-care and acceptance. Despite all the advances made in mental health awareness in Ireland, suicide is still shrouded in stigma, silence and secrecy. Key to the strategy was the insight that suicide is sometimes treated like a “contagious” disease and you can catch it just by saying the word.

So getting people to talk about the issue in a more informed way would be vital. University of Limerick (UL) carried out research on Darkness Into Light and provided scientific proof that merely by taking part in the ‘movement’ in and of itself can actually prevent suicide. Electric Ireland’s agency Thinkhouse was hired to develop ideas.

A new website was developed, with registration, peer-to-peer fundraising and mass mailing and communications platforms. A public relations and social media campaign told people’s stories – both well-known media personalities like Bressie and others not so famous, whose lives have been devastated by suicide or who have struggled with mental health.

Focus increased on suicide prevention addressing root causes through businesses and schools. International trade marks for Darkness Into Light were secured. In 2015, walks across the island of Ireland, in the UK, US, Canada and Australia, grew numbers to 70,000 participants and €2.35 million in income. Crucially, 33,000 people received counselling.

Pieta House contributed to a 20 per cent drop in suicide rates across Ireland. The HSE reported 399 suicides in Ireland last year, compared to 451 in 2015 and 554 in 2011. The numbers of people taking part in Darkness Into Light was up by 150 per cent to 180,000 people. This year, €4.5m was raised, which is a third of Pieta House’s annual funding.

It is estimated that 54,000 people are impacted by suicide in Ireland. In a review of Higgins’s presentation, one judge said his work for Pieta House was “top drawer” which just “blew me away” – not least the way he took the Darkness Into Light event and turned into a movement. The results were “phenomenal” with a 20 per cent reduction in suicide rates.

Brian Higgins’s top tip: Have a brass neck and be cheeky.

Marketer of the Year finalists 2017











Edel Kinane, marketing director, Just Eat.ie

Edel Kinane’s challenge was to build the biggest takeaway brand in Ireland without opening a single restaurant. The strategy aimed to disrupt the traditional market, re-position the takeaway sector, create relevance, drive behavioural change and acquisition and create online demand for food ordering and delivery, through the website and, especially, the Just Eat app.

Kinane developed a mobile-first strategy, with PPC, SEO, programmatic display and paid social. With always-on campaigns, she grew engaged consumer and restaurant communities.

She also developed the brand through an innovative presence in music and food festivals, such as its porter service at Electric Picnic and its First Dates sponsorship on RTÉ2.

Just Eat replaced Coke Zero as sponsor of Dublin City Council’s bike scheme in a €2.25 million, three-year deal and launched Ireland’s national takeaway awards. Results have seen   Just Eat grow revenue by 45 per cent year-on-year over three years. Almost 40 per cent of takeaway consumers now order online. The brand has an 82 per cent prompted awareness.

Edel Kinane’s top tips: Make sure to integrate your communications channels, always pay attention to detail and have a clear vision for your brand.

Niall McGrath, marketing director, Fulfil Nutrition

Fulfil wanted to create a market for a protein, healthy but popular snack – “taste trumps healthy every time”. What was out there on the market already tasted awful and the packs looked terrible. McGrath had to change the protein ‘bodybuilder’ image and create from scratch a credible and fun lifestyle brand that delivered on both health and taste benefits.

The strategy focused on four pillars- distribution, visibility, trial and awareness. They selected relevant channels such as convenience, Topaz forecourts, pharmacies, coffee shops and gyms and expanded into supermarkets from there. The brand was targeted at both male and female consumers, so Fulfil pack design and marketing concepts reflected this.

The product’s taste proved a winner. To build brand awareness, extensive sampling was carried out and the use of social media influencers like Roz Purcell and former Olympic   athlete David Gillick paid off. Fulfil was signed up as the FAI’s official snack sponsor.

Fulfil’s premium positioning is reflected in its €2.50 price point. After just a year a half on the market, the confectionery is ranked 68th in the Checkout Top 100 brands. Over 15 million bars have been sold – most as a healthy impulse purchase. The brand is now in 16 export markets and was recently listed for its bars on both Aer Lingus and Ryanair flights.

Niall McGrath’s top tips: Have a plan, network and enjoy the ride – the brand is fun.

Marketer of the Year™ is organised by Marketing.ie magazine in association with Alternatives, the marketing talent house. Marketer of the Year is registered in the Register of Trade Marks in the name of Marketing.ie under the Trade Marks Act 1996.

Any use of Marketer of the Year™ in the RoI is strictly the preserve of Marketing.ie.   


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