Irish business executives are flying further afield than ever to sell Ireland Inc. Jamie Smyth talks to key individuals who are spurring on an export-led economic recovery. Photographs by Trevor Hart.
very morning before sunrise a small army of sleepy business executives, clutching laptops and briefcases, arrives at airports to catch flights abroad on a mission to sell Ireland Inc. In an age of increasing globalisation, travelling salesmen and women are taking to the air to sell Irish products across Europe, Asia and the US. The early morning starts are gruelling and time spent away from family is tough but these “road warriors” are spurring an export-led economic recovery that is helping Ireland overcome a four-year financial crisis. “We expect exports to grow by about three per cent this year and that is in the face of a very difficult situation across Europe, which is the destination for 60 per cent of our exports,” says the chief executive of the Irish Exporters Association, John Whelan. “Food and drink, pharmaceuticals and technology are key sectors.” This year Irish exports are expected to be worth €176 billion, which is more than the country’s gross domestic product – the market value of all goods and services within the economy. They are a key factor that has helped Ireland differentiate itself from other peripheral countries in the Eurozone, such as Spain, Portugal and Greece, and return to international markets. Marina Donohoe, head of education at Enterprise Ireland, a state agency that helps Irish companies sell overseas, says establishing a presence in overseas markets is vital for exporters to be successful.
Despite the development of video conferencing and email technology, personal meetings remain vitally important to cement business relationships, clinch deals and win new business overseas. Frank Keane, head of international business, at chartered accountants MKO Partners, believes that meeting people face to face is the only way to discover new business opportunities. He spends a lot of his time scouring the US, Asia and Europe for multinational companies considering setting up new operations in Ireland. Many Irish exporters, particularly food and drink companies, invest millions of euro in advertising campaigns abroad that also help to boost Ireland’s profile. “The Irish whiskey brand is so intimately connected to Ireland’s brand image that the industry’s marketing spend represents a big promotion job for Ireland’s brand image as well,” says Stephen Teeling, senior global marketing manager for Irish whiskey at US spirits group Beam, owner of the Cooley Distillery in Ireland and one of Ireland’s self-styled “business ambassadors”. The ongoing difficulties in the Eurozone economy remain a real threat to the Irish and global economy. But all the hard work being done by Irish-based companies selling their products and services overseas and the commitment of their “ambassadors” on the ground is paying off and putting Ireland on the road to recovery. Jamie Smyth is Ireland Correspondent with the Financial Times newspaper.
Marina Donohoe EnTERpRISE IRELand Bollywood blockbusters don’t often offer opportunities to sell Ireland Inc but head of education at Enterprise Ireland, Marina donohoe, managed to use this year’s premiere of the Indian movie Ek tha Tiger (once There Was a Tiger) to promote the country as a location for foreign students. “The movie was shot in Trinity College dublin and provided a unique opportunity for us to pitch Ireland to the Indian student market,” says donohoe, 43, who organised a series of marketing events around the movie’s premiere. Life on the road is not easy, particularly in the developing world where flights times are long and multiple meetings must be crammed into just a few short days in a country. But face-to-face contact is often critical to clinching deals. “If you are not physically in a market then you haven’t got a chance of winning the business. You have to be on people’s radar screens,” says donohoe. attracting foreign students to Ireland is a lucrative business. Last year 32,000 non-EU students came to Ireland to study, providing an estimated €500 million boost to the local economy. Enterprise Ireland has set a target of attracting 52,000 students by 2015. “We organise trade missions, education fairs, workshops and online campaigns to grow the Education in Ireland brand. It is a fascinating job because you get to travel to so many different countries,” says donohoe, who spent a decade working for the agency in the US before taking up her current job. “I travel abroad most months and I love what I do. Ireland has a really great offering because it is English speaking, has a high quality education system with some world leading institutions and a very warm welcome for international students.”