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Gerard McAdorey, GM Marketing

The funny thing about challenger brands is that they often attract other challenger brands. That shared mindset appeals. Sometimes, the largest brands are former challenger brands – and they retain their initial hunger.

“You don’t start out acting for P&G or Unilever,” explains Gerard McAdorey, founder of Northern Ireland brand marketing and distribution firm GM Marketing. “But you attract people and brands that see the world the way that you do.”

Even in 2021?

“Definitely. You can become more efficient at using data and technology, you can improve systems and processes, but fundamentally, our business still has to come down to relationships. We need strong, straightforward relationships which we are committed to every day.”

Jerry McGuire and his personal business relationship mantra comes to mind as Gerard talks but it’s hard to imagine anyone less likely to shout ‘show me the money’.

“I started out stacking shelves and working at Marks & Spencer, and via a couple of other places ended up working at an Irish brand called Punch. In my interview, the CEO said that when you thought of their products they were all ‘under the sink’. Shoe polish, candles and the like. I learned a lot in that business, made loads of connections and contacts.”

Though he doesn’t say it, what’s clear is that McAdorey spotted a gap in the market whilst at Punch. The fire that had burned inside and prompted him to ask, ‘could I really do this?’ refused to be extinguished.

“There were brand and products that, I believed, could fit into the sector and had not been properly represented. I was fortunate enough to have enough contacts that hadn’t been represented in the island of Ireland. So we began with a couple of challenger products, and with some household products that needed help ‘in the north’ and we took the leap of faith.

The brands took a leap of faith too?

“They did. But this goes back to what I was saying about relationships, and trust. I’d spotted a gap for them in the market and how we could help them and they bought into it. Nowadays, it’s hard to think that this would happen in GB with all the data scientists and experts. But 20 years ago in Ireland and even to some extent today, it was about trust and your ability to deliver.”

Laughing, he continues: “Of course, it’s a different story for us today – we’re 21 years old and trusted by some leading brands like Tilda and Typhoo. But, amazingly, quite a few of those brands came to us when we were only three years old as a business.”

A case of the fashionable values-driven or purpose model?

“That’s for others to say, but time and again those brands and especially those people who had had the same passion for how they did business as us were attracted to work together. Of course, we’ve had a few losses and they hurt, but we’re the right size to be able to navigate those.

“Our new marketing director has just started and we think that that’s going to be part of us more than doubling in size over the next few years, whilst retaining a focus on some core brands. We want to be big enough to make a difference and small enough to keep it personal and commercial.”

It’s not hard to picture that, somewhere, Cameron Crowe, Jerry Maguire’s screenwriter is wryly smiling to himself.

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