Home IMJ Features Opinion: We Need to Unlock Growth for Ireland’s SMEs

Opinion: We Need to Unlock Growth for Ireland’s SMEs

Irish SMEs are the backbone of the economy yet when it comes to supporting their marketing ambitions, there is little evidence of any joined-up thinking, writes Catriona Campbell, managing director of The Public House.

SMEs are defined as the ‘lifeblood of the Irish economy’, employing 70% of our workforce, and contributing 42% of total turnover produced in Ireland across all sectors.

But small businesses, even those with big ideas, big potential, and big talent, are usually lean machines with limited resources and limited cash-flow.  The consequence?  SMEs can often fail to leverage the power of marketing their businesses, limiting their potential and stalling their growth.  Marketing is too often viewed as an expense that is simply unaffordable, particularly if there’s no expertise in-house.

A Cost or Investment?

Of course, there are SMEs doing fantastic work. People like the amazing Aine Kennedy who has shaped The Smooth Company into a phenomenon, as well as the likes of shoe designer Nicki Hoyne, companies like TALA, White Mausu and of course, Mattress Mick.  But for a lot of SMEs that don’t have someone naturally gifted at marketing, is growth being stifled because marketing is seen as a cost, rather than an investment?

It is a fact that SMEs represent a huge role in delivering growth to our economy.  With the Central Bank of Ireland publishing warnings that Ireland is over reliant on the international tech sector, obviously there’s a strategic goal to diversify and support homegrown SMEs to reach their full potential.

And to do that, to truly unlock growth, that is usually where strategic partners come in, offering clarity, support on business strategy, growth strategies, and providing roadmaps on how to achieve that – marketing plans, comms plans, and then helping turn all that visionary stuff into something tangible.

No Joined-Up Thinking

In an ideal world, Enterprise Ireland/ Department of Trade, Enterprise & Employment would be working with the likes of the Small Business Forum, The Marketing Society, the Marketing Institute, and the likes of the Institute of Advertising Practitioners Ireland (IAPI) to give SMEs easy access or signposts to that support.  But to my knowledge a joined-up cross-industry body doesn’t exist – I hope I’m wrong, because it is absolutely what SMEs need.

A Google Ireland/Amarach study into Irish SMEs from 2022 identified that ‘a lack of strategic clarity’ is consistently the number one constraint for all SMEs, regardless of size.  They also asked SMEs to score their current performance against potential (as they sense or intuit it).  A majority think they are achieving less than half their potential with their marketing activities.  Less than half!

At The Public House, we’ve been proudly partnering with SMEs for over a decade.  When we formed the company, the people we stood shoulder to shoulder with, who we bounced off and troubleshooted with, were other entrepreneurs – the people behind SMEs who had put it all on the line for a belief they had in creating their own business.

The Long Lost Art of Bartering

And we soon identified that we could help our fellow entrepreneurs genuinely kick-start or grow their businesses.  But being cognisant of the cash flow challenges of start-up businesses, we recycled an old-fashioned idea – bringing back the long lost art of the bartering system.

‘The Local House’ was born.  The way it works is pretty simple – we provide discounted fees in return for their goods and services, or sweat equity, with any hard costs/third parties – such as production costs or media costs, if required –  funded by the client.

It circumnavigated the challenges SMEs had in approaching a company like ours – they didn’t have to hand over a big cheque, but still got access to expert strategic advice and creative ideas.  But The Local House became bigger than a bartering system for us – the free dental work was great of course- but the power of The Local House was ultimately about the power of creativity.

Clients – and yes, we treat our The Local House partners as clients – who had little money, but big challenges – genuinely needed creativity to help their businesses grow, thrive or survive.

If ever there was a demonstration of the need to outcreate, rather than outspend, then it’s every Local House brief we work on.

Nothing Small About SMEs

Over the years The Local House has worked with a number of exciting SMEs and entrepreneurs – from frozen yoghurt makers, furniture makers, light makers, a pub tour company, coffee shops, dentists, lighting manufacturers as well as our current projects with a non-alcoholic beer and an amateur dramatic society.

What we soon realised is that there isn’t anything small about small businesses.  And for us, it’s about being an active member of the Irish entrepreneurial space.   We wanted to sit around the table with our clients, of any size or stature, and empathise about the bottom line.  Creating our very own circular economy is for us the very definition of responsible business and what that should look like in 2023.

We’d love it if this type of programme could be rolled out on a bigger scale, to enable SMEs to unlock growth and fulfil their ambitions.



How The Public House Has Helped SMEs

For Wildlands, an adventure park based in Galway, The Public House provided strategic consultancy as well as a campaign to raise awareness about the destination.  Faye Bohan, Director, Wildlands, said:  “We especially loved the concept which captured the feeling customers have when visiting us, while at the same time tying to the surrounding nature.  The result was a high-quality,  effective marketing campaign which raised national awareness of our adventure park and our recently launched luxury self-catering accommodation. The team supported us with expert guidance and insights throughout the process”. The resulting work for Wildlands was included in Luerzers Archive, the celebrated global resource, publishing the Top 200 Print Ads of 2022.

The Public House launched an awareness campaign for Dublin vegan restaurant V-Face in line with Veganuary at the start of the year.  For Sarah Boland, founder and director, this was a critical moment for her business.

“As a small business opening our doors during the first lockdown, we needed a little jump start. The Public House created a campaign for us which totally blew our minds. It brought humour, joy and most importantly, lots more customers through our doors. We are a 100% vegan burger bar. We wanted to echo this message without using a militant tone.

“The Public House created the wondrous tagine ‘Give Animals a Break’ accompanied by visuals of hens dancing a hen party, hogs doing the downward hog and cows giving it socks on a dance floor. While the ads were executed on bus stops throughout the city, we were flipping manically in the kitchen.” This work was also recognised by BestAdsInTV as Best Outdoor Of The Week in January 2023.

For the Irish Craft Soda Company The Public House developed a robust brand identity and packaging design that could flex over many different SKUs going forward. This new visual identity aimed to break through the noisy retail category and ensure this product achieved on-shelf standout amongst its many established competitors.

According to Liam Tutty, founder of Irish Craft Soda Company: “I went to The Public House with a blank slate. They took the time to get to know me and what my vision was for the brand. Instantly they understood the personality I wanted to breathe into The Irish Craft Soda Company and got to work on investigating how we could achieve that. They took on feedback so enthusiastically and treated every revision as an opportunity to refine and further The Irish Craft Soda Co’s identity. The finished product speaks volumes about the simplicity of the product, the boldness of the flavours and the warmth of the brand’s personality”.

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