Name: Nicola Nolan
Job: PR and Events Manager
For: Neal’s Yard
Nicola Nolan is the PR and Events Manager at Neal's Yard Remedies, the trailblazing organic health and beauty brand. Nicola worked for a PR agency where she was so unhappy she ended up leaving for a brief stint on the beauty team at Psychologies magazine. An old boss put her in touch with the Marketing Director at Neal's Yard and she started work there the day after her interview. Nicola's role now includes press, campaigns, social media and product launches.
Hi Nicola. What’s your role at Neal’s Yard Remedies?
I’m the PR and Events Manager for Neal's Yard Remedies (NYR).
I look after all areas of PR and events for the business, and I look after a UK and a US agency, who are responsible for all of our product placement, and together, we work on bigger feature stories in the UK and US.
Day to day I’m planning stories, pitching stories, writing releases, sending products out, and meeting with journalists to see what they’re working on, and how we can get NYR into those stories.
I’m really lucky in that a lot of press interaction I have tends to be done either at the factory, where we get to make products with the press, showing them the care and level of quality which goes into NYR, or at Peter Kindersley’s farm in Berkshire. Peter owns NYR, and he has one of the largest organic farms in the UK. He grows calendula, motherwort, mint, and lots of other different herbs for our products. We like to do one or two trips out there every year where the press get to have a lovely lunch with Peter, talking about the business, what makes it special, and what we’ve been working on recently. We take them out to do the herb picking, we show them the process of making macerated oils from those herbs, we show them how we distill the ingredients and oils, and how they then end up in the products.
The other side of the job is social media, which is very exciting. It’s certainly a lot more fast paced than PR which involves so much more time spent on each launch. Social media is a big part of the job now because everybody’s doing it and involved in it. One of the biggest challenges we’ve faced is working out how to bring NYR and NYR Organic together. NYR Organic is our home selling channel. We have 4000 consultants across the UK selling our products at home parties. In terms of social media they are all very keen to have their own Facebook pages and be on Twitter talking about the products too. The last year has been a really big challenge to get a strategy together but we’re there now and it’s exciting to see it all coming together. It’s interesting to see how we fit retail alongside the home selling channel, and how it all works together. A big part of that is about communicating, both internally in terms of what we’re communicating to businesses on both channels, and externally talking to customers about why they should come into a store versus buying at a party. That’s going to be a big part of my job.
The other area I look after is campaigns. Bee Lovely was our first ever eco campaign which we launched last year, based all around the plight of bee populations.
Because our background is in farming and organics, we wanted to focus on one issue, and when you scratch the surface, there are so many different explanations for the declining bee population. One American customer of ours was determined that it was the result of cellphone transmissions. There’s all sorts of crazy ideas out there. We strongly believe from beekepers on our farms as well as others we’ve been talking to and working with for the campaign that pesticides are really closely linked to the declining bee populations.
As part of our Bee Lovely campaign, we’re calling for help from the public to get a national ban on neonicotinoid pesticides. To make the campaign more engaging we launched a limited edition product to raise money (our Bee Lovely hand cream), and from each £9.50 tube, £1 went to beekeeping initiatives across the UK. Last year we supported several charities as part of the campaign: LandLife who are a wildflower charity, responsible for planting wildflowers to encourage bees; BioBees, who aim to educate the public on why bees are so special; and the Pesticide Action Network, who campaign against pesticides in the UK. It was so successful, we predicted the handcream would be on shelves for three months and it sold out in six weeks! The lovely thing about our business is that because we make everything ourselves, when something sells out we can put the plans in place to simply make some more!
The Bee Lovely Campaign was so successful that when it came to this year, we knew we had to bring it back, and the challenge we faced was how to make it bigger and better.
Just last week, we launched the new, bigger campaign to the press in a beautiful secret garden in central London. In August, we will be launching an entire Bee Lovely product range specifically designed for the whole family.
At our launch event we had a huge bee statue covered in wild flowers, we called him Neal the Bee and he was the star attraction on the day! As part of the launch event, we had therapists on hand offering hand and arm massages using the new products, as well as a honey tasting stall and a huge beehive displaying the new products beautifully. It was also our chance to introduce the charities we’ll be supporting this year: Friends of the Earth, who have launched a Bee Cause Campaign; BioBees who are working to create Bee Friendly zones around the UK; and we’ve kept LandLife on board this year to help us with even more wild flower work, including a wild flower patch at our head quarters.
Planning a huge event like the Bee Lovely Launch is supermanic and it’s one of the biggest parts of my job but it’s always really good fun.
We had this year’s event outside which was a bit of a risk given the awful summer we’re having but the sun came out for us and it all went really well!
Do you get much feedback from customers?
We are a family run company and I think people really feel like they are connected with the business, so we have a very vocal customer base.
We’ve got one customer who’s been buying NYR for 30 years. When I had just started, the lovely Elsa McAlonan, who covers the double page spread in the Daily Mail answering beauty questions from readers, got in touch about a NYR question. A reader had been buying NYR Rose Water for about 15 years and had just noticed the colour of the water was darker, and she was asking why this could be. I was fascinated, as was Elsa, by this woman’s attention to detail. How did she know it was darker through the blue glass bottles, and notice the difference to previous years? I was desperate to find out what was causing it so I spoke to our technical team, who said it was darker because we had switched to a water source from Sheepdrove Farm which apparently has richer soil, causing the darker colour. Three years down the line, it’s now more familiar to me that smells vary to trained noses, pigments change over time, and it all depends on harvests. It’s nice because it adds a handmade, natural organic appeal to everything, which our customers love.
So much care, attention and love goes into our products and I think that’s what makes NYR such a special brand.
Which office are you based at?
I’m based at our London offices in Covent Garden, but our eco headquarters are in Dorset. It’s tiny in relation to what we produce and who we are as a brand.
There are just eight people on the packing line, and only four of them are qualified to fill our tubes and jars. Between them they supply the whole business internationally, which is amazing.
When you’re there you can always smell what they’re making. I go maybe twice a month and as soon as you arrive you know which product they’re bottling and packing each day.
Are you a product junkie? (I am!!)
I am a huge girly girl, so I love to try new products and looks, and I’m always trying new things in terms of mixing different products. We just launched the NYR make up range, and rather than just taking it for what it was, straight away I was looking at how I could build the products with balms, how I could achieve a dewier look by mixing with other products, lots of combinations.
When I go to our HQ I always make a point of going into the lab, I’m like a kid in a sweet shop there. I get to see all the product development, everything we’re working on 6-8 months ahead, and have some input into that. Before NYR I was working at a PR agency, where the client would come to you, and say ‘this is the product, this is the name, this is everything you need to know, off you go’. Now, usually around October, as we come towards the end of the year, we reflect on what we’ve done and achieved as a brand, and come up with suggestions for next year, and we get asked what we think we should work on, and what we’d like to see.
We’re all involved in product names, labels, looks, and all of the samples at every stage.
We’re launching body butters in October, and I must have tried about 16 different variations of body butter. I’ve tried all sorts of different textures, smells, some with more scent, some less, more rose, less geranium, so many combinations! It all gets run past our marketing team so at every stage we’re involved in it. When we get to the final product, we all feel involved and proud of it.
In something like PR, it’s very difficult to honestly answer questions from journalists about sourcing and ingredients if you’re at an agency and you’ve just had a presentation and not seen it first hand. That is for me what the real point of difference is, and it’s why I don’t see myself going anywhere else.
How big is your marketing team then?
There are 8 of us.
How did you get this job then?
It’s a funny story actually, and I always expect people are a bit surprised when I tell them. I quit my job at the agency I had been working at because I just really wasn’t enjoying it. I had nowhere to go and volunteered to help a friend who was working on the beauty team at Psychologies magazine, and I had a really unglamorous time there masking products to send out for blind beauty testing. After just a week there, an old boss got in touch as there was a job with NYR that she thought would suit me.
I met with the NYR Marketing Director on a Tuesday afternoon and started work with NYR the next day!
She had a really specific idea in her head about what she wanted and who she wanted to take on the role, and from what my old boss had told me, she’d met quite a few people already. She was the type of person who believed in gut instinct, and she said I had what she was looking for as soon as I sat down, and I was the right person because I knew the brand rather than just repeating rehearsed lines. I also had lots of questions for her which I think she liked. I was so lucky, everything just fell into place three and a half years ago, and I really haven’t looked back since.The brand continues to grow year on year, and with the industry moving towards more natural and organic products, and consumers seeking more education on what’s in their products, it’s great to be leading that in terms of credibility and quality of ingredients. It’s the place to be for me.
Do you think your agency experience was valuable?
Agency work is vital. When I worked at an agency, it was probably the hardest year of my life. I worked across seven different clients, and it was really difficult. Having come in house and seen the level of detail we get, and then comparing that to the knowledge you get in an agency, was amazing. For me, it all fell into place and I love detail which is why the in-house role works perfectly!
Agency life is hard work and super fast paced, but it teaches you to multitask and prioritise, and it really throws you out into the field and puts you on the radar of journalists.
Agencies are who journalists turn to as their first port of call. If they’re doing a product story and they want foaming bath oils for example, they tend go to two or three agencies rather than searching out individual in house teams.
Agencies are good for learning what PR is about and networking, but the sort of person I am and the way I work (I have a ridiculous attention to detail and I need to have that product knowledge) is why in house suits me so well.
What takes up most of your time?
Planning and talking. I spend a lot of time talking to everyone. Really I’m a facilitator, so for example on something like the Bee Lovely campaign, I will spend a lot of time talking to charities, our Head of Sustainability, and the Production team about the new products, getting PR samples, briefing our marketing team, making sure everybody is up for the challenge of the campaign. It’s a really face to face job, which I love.
What the biggest challenge you face?
The amount of messages we have as a brand, and picking the ones we want to talk about.
As a brand we have so much to talk about, whether that’s ethical messages, organic messages, incredible sourcing stories we have, packaging stories we have, the attention to detail is incredible.
Our Christmas boxes, for example, all have to go through the FSC, the product design formulations have to go through the Soil Association, and there’s so many messages we want to talk about. The challenge is picking what we want to get across, and which ones our customers most want to hear.
What’s the best bit of your job?
Working with my team and seeing the passion and knowledge that’s in the company. We’ve got a herbalist who’s been with us for almost 25 years, and our Head of Medicine has been with us for 29 years.
What about the worst?
Ahead of all of our press launches I have to get all the products ready and do all the mockups and labels. It’s not enjoyable labelling 200 mock up samples ahead of a launch, and I usually manage to pick up a fair few papercuts!
What advice would you give to those starting out in your field?
Get as much experience as you can. Start out at a fast paced agency and keep your mind open to new challenges and opportunities.
Find something you love (for me it was skincare and makeup) and work on getting yourself into that. Network and meet as many people as you can. As the saying goes, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
Is there anything particular you hope to achieve in your career to come?
I’d like to build on my international experience. I’m off to New York in a few weeks to launch the Bee Lovely Campaign to press out there. I often think I’d like to live abroad so maybe that will be my next move...I just need to get NYR to open an office there so I can stay with this amazing brand!