Guest Interview: Fashion and Event PR at House of Fraser

I’m really excited to host this week’s “Local Profiles” slot for a number of reasons.

Mark Kelly (Regional Publicity & Events Officer, House of Fraser) is a great guy. He will always have time for you, even if he’s juggling two phones and a gaggle of screaming models. I know this because I first met him while working at a fashion show in Parliament Buildings and he was the only person who was “cool as a cucumber”! He also has a much-sought after PR role, probably one that many women imagined when they first dreamed of a career in the industry. However I knew I could trust Mark to balance the honest realism of his work load with the fabulous-ness of a job that many envy him for.

I also wanted to highlight the retail sector during this year’s series as it makes up such a large part of our local economy, but so few UK retailers invest in local professionals for PR, instead relying on their mainland teams. I applaud House of Fraser for mentoring a local team and recognising their skills with promotion opportunities. And I applaud Mark who sits with us on the CIPR Northern Ireland committee and gives of his time to further the professionalism of the sector…

How did you get where you are today?

I saw an opportunity to join a new retail powerhouse in Belfast which was, and still is, House of Fraser. I have always had the belief that if you want to go somewhere fast then get in when the company is fresh to the local environment. With all great start-ups come a lot of opportunity to sit round a table and discuss openly what you think would benefit the company and consider new and improved ways to be more efficient or streamline business processes. From the off-set House of Fraser have been a company with a very strong open door policy for putting across your thoughts on how to improve the business. I started back in 2007 as an Administrative Assistant, then moved in to Visual Merchandising for a year. A secondment opportunity came up for an events role lasting 3 months… that 3 months was over 5 years ago. It’s shocking how fast time flies when you love what you do! I remember having a hangover at my interview as I didn’t get the letter they had sent me so they called me on the morning to make sure I was still going to attend. At the end of the interview my closing line was ‘Please do not employ me if I can’t go anywhere as I just can’t face working somewhere that promises progression but can’t deliver on it’… funny how things turn out!

What three tips would you offer someone just starting out in the industry?

Passion, enthusiasm and someone with a sense of reality. Sure I get a lot of lovely invites and I get to curate some amazingly premium events, but if you want something to sparkle it takes a lot of buffing, planning, long hours, early starts, late finishes, meetings about meetings and multi-tasking.

What’s a typical week like in your role?

A typical week is spent with my Blackberry strapped to my hand. I usually start at 7.30am each day (Mon-Fri) but in fairness my day starts at 6.45am when my eyes open. The main duties in my role are to protect and project the brand values of House of Fraser in Northern Ireland, communicate for all brands under our Belfast roof, seek out opportunities to the benefit of the brand and provide a steer to a team member in our South of Ireland store in Dundrum.

I meet regularly with local Journalists, Press and Bloggers and for the best part of these meetings I discuss newness and exclusive brands to our business. Most meetings are fashion led as this is the most newsworthy story that we tend to have on a daily basis however we do put a focus on all services and departments that we have in-store from Personal Shopping to Wedding List and Beauty to Homeware. I track all Northern Irish gained coverage through various channels, keep a breast of our social media outlets and talk daily to our Shopping Centre counterparts about how we can communicate effective messages to our customers to ensure a sales and footfall uplift for a promotion or event, but sometimes the best events can be a PR exercise to drive awareness not sales.


What has changed for the better and worse since you started in the industry?

For the better I would say real time communication to your customer - the juggernaut that is social media channels. This gives you the opportunity to react quickly and in a timely fashion. Social Media can be seen as a knife edge and we have all seen examples of how detrimental it can be to a business but if managed correctly it plays a vital role in communication to the masses in an instant. On the back of this I also feel that social media has made us all in the profession up our game and, in turn, made us less complacent. It is a time to engage, trial, embrace ideas, champion blue sky thinking,  listen to your customers, know your customers, reward success, learn from everything you do then add to it and do it all again next time – only better!

If you were hiring for an entry-level position, what would make a candidate stand out?

Total passion, a true want to do the job, a want to make a difference and someone who has an understanding of the role that I do. Aside from sitting on the 2014 Committee for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations in Northern Ireland I have no qualifications after 9 GCSE’S. I feel it is very important at entry level to challenge back on things you feel could be done better as this shows you are keen, just make sure you challenge in the appropriate way and show clear understanding of any situation.

What is your proudest moment to date?

Overseeing the 5th Birthday celebrations for the store. It was the most successful event since store opening and I will be motoring some to beat it, it was a solid 4 months of brand meetings, compiling an exclusive local offering from over 150 brands to the customer and engaging every member of press that I could think of then compiling different exclusive stories to fit their needs, i.e. For a fashion journalist the exclusive would be ‘To celebrate House of Fraser’s fifth birthday here are the top 55 handbags under £55’ but a business angle would be ‘Since opening House of Fraser has sold in excess of XX Handbags, XX engagement rings, traded to the customer for over XXX hours and employed over XXX.’ It is very important to ensure your store is exclusive and news worthy where possible. The bench mark has been set high after the 5th Birthday, it was an event I found difficult to say goodbye too! Another moment would be instigating the first ever Catwalk collection sent straight from Paris Fashion Week by Paul Costelloe to Belfast to open Fall For Fashion. After that event I knew that we can all achieve what we think we can’t!

When you switch off (if you switch off!) what do you do with your own time?

I could say the usual PR speak here of ‘You never switch off’ but I do. Rarely, but I do! I am very deep thinker and creative person, I love coming up against a problem because I firmly believe there is always a solution – no exceptions! Although my work is very challenging and sometimes your feel like a plate spinner in a circus, I am very lucky that I love what I do and get to work for a company I can be proud to call my employer. With this in mind I never get stressed it is one emotion that I think is totally pointless, put it this way: you have an issue, you worry, you stress, you deliberate, you evaluate and you try to fix it – the outcome is it’s fixed or you have an issue you deliberate, you evaluate and you try to fix it – the outcome is it’s fixed… moral of the story: no matter what you do the outcome will always be the outcome so do not stress, it’s pointless.

Back to the question. I lift weights, big heavy weights about 4/5 times a week, I bake, I walk and I go off on little exploring trips around N.I. to see what I have yet to see. For someone with such an organised work life I have such a relaxed and unplanned personal life!

You can follow Mark and House of Fraser on Twitter (@markkelly34b and @houseoffraser @Victoria_Square respectively)