Within creative industries (such as Public Relations), storytelling becomes an integral part of what we do on a daily basis. It forms the basis of our proposals; the hook for our presentations; even the cliffhanger for our marketing campaigns.
So in this bi-weekly series, we chat with a different storyteller about their work and how telling stories helps them do what they do best. First up, is Aoife Clarke, Head of Public Relations at Lidl.
Q.1: How did you get into your current role with Lidl?
I joined Lidl back in 2008 when the PR function was being established. I spotted the job post and was curious about the company, as I had only limited exposure to shopping there. The more I researched the company and their ethos, the more intrigued I became. I could tell there was a great story there just waiting to be told. Initially I focused on establishing the consumer PR side of the business to get the Irish public more familiar with the concept of own brands and Lidl products. After a brief period in our international HQ in Germany, I returned to head up the department in 2013. My current role covers Public Relations, Social Media, Events and Internal Communications.
Q.2: What do you enjoy most about your role with the company?
I enjoy the diversity of the role and the challenges it brings. Clichéd but no two days really are the same. Lidl is a great company to work for. There is a huge appetite for success, a willingness to try new things and a leadership team that is engaged and committed. It makes for a great place to work if you are ambitious and not afraid to get stuck in.
Lidl is more than the stores you see – there is a huge distribution network, regional offices and head office behind the scenes. Retail is sometimes seen as a less than desirable career but I would massively dispute this. Retail is dynamic and ever changing – ideal for people who love a challenge. The great thing about Lidl also is you are not limited in what you can achieve. The company invests massively in learning and development and so many routes are available if people have a desire to progress.
In April we announced we're rolling out Autism Aware Quiet Evenings. Well we are now very happy to announce the roll out is complete and every one of our 155 stores are holding Quiet Evenings every Tuesday 6-8pm!
— Lidl Ireland (@lidl_ireland) June 5, 2018
Q.3: How does storytelling fit into your daily life? What aspects of storytelling would you say you employ in your work?
Storytelling is central to what my team do on a daily basis. As we manage both internal and external comms we have to always keep in mind who our audience is for the content we are putting out. Internally we use an overarching strategy called #WeAreLidl to tell our story. I think over the years we have developed Lidl’s personality a bit more and helped changed the perception of us as a “foreign” company.
Engagement is huge to us. We always question why a post did or didn’t get good engagement so that we can be more informed the next time. Authenticity is key for us also. We love the engagement we get from the likes of our partnership with the Ladies Gaelic Football Association, Jigsaw or Food Cloud. It’s great to showcase the impact we are making in communities all over Ireland. Therefore giving them a platform through our channels really works for us and helps show a different side to our brand.
Q.4: Lidl is known for it’s witty/humorous social media presence. Do you have a hand in that? and if so, what drives you to create such engaging content/tell great stories?
I had to twist a few arms to get Lidl to start doing social media in 2010 so I’ve been there since the beginning. From the start I was passionate about making sure social stayed true to its roots. It cannot be seen as simply another marketing channel to push out offers or deals. Obviously we can be a bit more flexible and personable on social and we took our time in finding the tone of voice that works for us. Now that we have that established and we are more comfortable, content comes quite naturally. There is a small team who work on social (2 plus me dipping in) which helps in keeping it consistent. We work with local agencies to help with production of certain social elements and also have access to content through our international channels.
Just a few of the items every one of our 4,200 employees in Ireland will be receiving to help introduce our €1m 3-year charity partnership with @JigsawYMH; showing why Youth Mental Health is so important and how we can all be #OneGoodAdult pic.twitter.com/P1TZ5RRZWY
— Lidl Ireland (@lidl_ireland) April 27, 2018
Q.5: Over the past year, although Lidl has seen a whole host of high points (sponsorship of Ladies Gaelic Football for example), it has unfortunately experienced some lows (the recent incident with the digger and your Fortunestown location). How have you dealt with that as Head of PR for the company? Was it challenging? or did you view it as an opportunity to show the brand’s resilience?
While what happened to our Fortunestown branch was devastating from a physical perspective, I actually look back on it as a defining moment for us as a brand. The outpouring of sympathy from the general public was overwhelming and genuinely took us by surprise. We know that we have become a central part of Irish life since we entered the market in 2000, but honestly the reaction from everyone, not just our customers, has been humbling. It really demonstrated to us that we are a valued part of communities right across the country and has made us more determined to continue with our promise to deliver value and excellent customer service to the Irish public. This year sees us invest over €200 million in Ireland, our largest investment in a single year since entering the market. We export over €230million worth of products from Irish suppliers to our store network all over Europe and the US. This is something we are hugely proud of and will continue to develop.
Q.6: What is your proudest achievement as a brand storyteller? Are there any campaign which you are extremely proud of?
I think Ladies Gaelic Football is one that really stands out. I was involved from the start when the notion of sponsoring the association was first floated. My attitude back then was that we needed to really get behind it as a company. We need to make a difference at grassroots level. Plenty of companies can stick logos on a jersey or take a title sponsorship of a championship but how many companies can say they have really made a difference from the top down? The letters and posts we get from schools and clubs when they win new kits or get vouchers from us is what it is all about for me. I’m really proud to have been involved in this partnership but it has only been successful because it has been embraced at all levels throughout the organisation. We have some fantastic ambassadors for the campaign both internally and externally. Roisin Friel who is a Store Manager in Donegal plays on the county team. Grainne McGlade in our Marketing team also lines out for Cavan. We have just committed to another three years of #SeriousSupport so watch this space!
Q.7: How do you go about starting a story/project? Do you have any creative rituals or processes to help you get started?
I don’t have any set routines as the more routine I am the less creative I can be. Genuinely I can be sitting in a meeting and something just pops into my head. Luckily I always have my iPhone or a notebook with me to jot things down. My sent items in my email are probably 25% to myself with a few words in the subject line! Be open minded and the ideas will come.
Q.8: Public Relations is job that requires creativity. Where would you say that you draw inspiration from?
I enjoy getting out and about in the fresh air sometimes just to clear my head. That helps when I have a creative block. Generally just something will catch my eye and I would take a quick pic and share with the team. We then see what we can take from it. Inspiration can come in any form at any time for me.
Q.9: Have you any advice for young storytellers? or anyone looking to establish a career in PR/Marketing?
Read, read and read even more. I devour everything – blogs, books, magazines, articles on LinkedIn. I’ve always been a media junkie so trawling through news sites is a source of great joy for me. PR and comms in general requires decisiveness also – it is not for people who aren’t comfortable making decisions quickly. It helps to be able to adapt your communication style to different audiences also. Some people want me to go into great detail on ideas and others want top-line info. Presentation skills are also really important. You need to be comfortable in front of audiences of all sizes so I would recommend anyone interested in PR to upskill in these areas.