“The pandemic has switched all our client external comms dials from important to critical. We are now a more valued part of their teams than before with one client telling us that our work had not only been critical in increasing sales but was responsible for saving jobs. That’s different from before.” This is how Nicky Forrest, managing director of leading drinks PR company, Phipps Relations, describes the impact that Covid-19 has had on its business and how it now works with its clients. She also explains why she is so pleased to be one of the Drinks Trust’s new trustees.
The Drinks Trust has appointed four new trustees to sit on its board that each bring their own expertise and experience to the drinks charity. Over the coming weeks The Buyer will be talking to each of the new trustees about their careers and why they are keen to work for The Drinks Trust in these new roles. They include: Katy Keating, managing director of Lay & Wheeler; Laura Willoughby MBE, co-founder of Club Soda, the Mindful Drinking Movement; and Jillian MacLean MBE, chief executive and founder of Drake & Morgan bar, pub and restaurant group – you can read her profile here. Here we turn the focus on Nicky Forrest, managing director of Phipps Relations.
Can you tell us your own journey into the drinks industry and how you followed the career that you did?
It was all an accident. I applied for lots of roles in PR agencies and got the job at Phipps starting as a junior to work on some of its drinks accounts: The Sherry Institute of Spain, The Famous Grouse and Highland Park. I started on my WSET exams almost straight away and we started working with Wines of Germany and from there the drinks and wine side of the business really took off. I’m still here and am now the majority shareholder and the managing director. I stayed because as the agency took shape it started to attract some of the best clients in the industry and the best team.
What is it about the drinks industry that you find so appealing?
I think that as an industry we work with an amazing product and interesting people with great stories. The scope for communications within the drinks world is vast. There are so many stories to tell, so many great drinks to discover and a consumer population looking for new things to try. It’s like ‘marketing nirvana’.
What do you think the drinks industry as a whole is particularly good at compared to other sectors?
I think that the industry is hugely collaborative on every level. We have strong trade bodies that represent us like the WSTA where all members have a voice, generic bodies that represent small sectors of the trade right down to social and networking groups like Women in Wine. It’s a hugely social industry which may seem like a small point but actually I think it brings out the best in us and makes they industry a fun and exciting place to be.
What do you see as the industry’s biggest challenges and areas that it needs to focus more attention on for the good of the sector?
In terms of challenges, I’d say that we need to be more outward looking and consumer focused. It’s beginning to happen, but it took a long time to come. I think that innovation in the ‘low and no’ sector is really strong and allows the industry to reach its widest possible audience and shifts the responsibility dial in the right direction. Some of the beers are great and there are some really interesting brands making their way to the fore.
You have just signed up to the Drinks Trust as a new trustee – why did you want to get involved?
I’ve been involved in the Drinks Trust in an informal way for a while, helping out in a communications consultancy role. The Phipps team has been offering pro bono support for the last couple of years too. Becoming a trustee seemed like the next logical step.
What do you see as your personal goals you would like to tackle and champion during your time working as a Drinks Trust trustee?
I think that I can add value helping to shape the communications strategy, both with the trade but also trying to see if there is a way forward with a wider consumer group. Making the Drinks Trust relevant to a wider audience has always been hanging in the balance, but the whole nation knows much the hospitality sector has suffered recently. Could this be a route in?
How do you think the Drinks Trust is perceived in the sector and what would you like to see the industry do more to support and understand what it does?
I think that within the wine trade there is a good understanding and awareness but the trade is so much wider than wine. I think that the recent innovations in building a community for the industry that have been initiated under Ross Carter’s leadership are a great start to broadening that base but it also makes what The Drinks Trust offers more complicated to explain and communicate. Bringing on Drinks Trust ambassadors and the next generation of trade is starting to pay off in bringing this new community together.
As a leading female working in the sector what would you like to see the industry do more in terms of equality and diversity?
It the drinks industry is to move with the times then it needs to woke up and challenge the view that only white middle class people drink wine. And the best way to do this is by a diverse representation in leadership roles within the industry. As an industry we need to promote ourselves as a proactive viable career choice rather than an accidental ‘I’ve always loved wine and got a weekend job in a wine shop and it sort of snow balled from there’ choice.
There are a myriad of roles from marketing, finance, HR, buying and sales, and we should be encouraging anyone who is interested in the sector to believe that they have a chance to be part of it and get them through the door.
How has the last 16 months been like for you and your business coming through the pandemic?
Phipps has had a good pandemic, we’ve hired more people, won new clients and kept all of our existing ones. We are a food and drink communications agency and in terms of global events whether that’s a pandemic or a financial crisis, it seems to be a fairly robust sector. So we’ve been lucky in that respect. The start of the pandemic was a challenge with some big clients cutting budgets right back but then other clients increased budgets and with new clients on board we managed to navigate our way through.
Any particular highlights or areas you feel you have done well?
I think we’ve all come through the pandemic as a really strong team and we are closer now than we were at the start. During the first months we all decided to take a collective pay cut so that we didn’t need to furlough anyone – it was a decision we took together. Then as soon as business had picked up again we were able to pay the salary sacrifice back to everyone with a small bonus.
The company culture has remained intact with weekly zoom Kardashian style ‘peaks and pits’ drinks, zoom pilates twice a week in the mornings, a Christmas cook along party and weekly Monday morning agency meetings to set the scene for the up-coming week.
We are closer to our clients than ever and I’d say that the pandemic has switched all our client external comms dials from important to critical. We are now a more valued part of their teams than before with one client telling us that our work had not only been critical in increasing sales but was responsible for saving jobs. That’s different from before.
What have been the biggest challenges over the last 16 months and coming up?
In some ways our two biggest challenges don’t change, they just become more intense versions of themselves; keeping the team motivated and engaged, delivering clients what they need. The next challenge will be to manage how we work as a team moving forwards; what will hybrid working look like? The pandemic has compressed ten years of what was coming in terms of flexible working. Business leaders are all struggling with the speed of that change and how to manage it. As challenges go is partly a philosophical one but it’s also a challenge that strikes at the very heart of businesses on a very tactical level.
Any particular personal goals or targets you have set yourself this year?
Personal goals are around health and wellbeing and setting new sporting challenges for myself. I’m an open water swimmer and I’d like to find time to do more of that and I’ve also gone back to rowing after a thirty year break so hoping to start competing at some point.
- You can find our more about Phipps Relations and what it does here.
- You can find our more about The Drinks Trust and the help and support it can provide here.