The Judges’ Club: meet Gymshark’s head of brand partnerships and PR Steph O’Neill
Continuing our interview series where we get to know the judges of The Drum Awards a little better, we sit down with Steph O’Neill, head of brand partnerships and PR at Gymshark and 2022 chair of The Drum Awards for PR judging panel, to find out more about her journey to the top.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I studied fashion management and marketing at university. However, I wasn’t sure which industry I wanted a career in, so I used my holidays as a chance to gain experience through different internships. One of those internships was at Christian Louboutin, which is where I found my passion for PR and entertainment marketing and where I got the experience needed for my first full-time role in the industry.
The Drum speaks to Gymshark’s Steph O’Neill
Can you give us a brief history of your career to date?
My first job was at fashion brand AQ/AQ, where I was able to accelerate my career by becoming a marketing and PR manager within the first year. It was a very hands-on role, so I got to understand and learn about all areas of the business.
After nearly four years at the brand, I moved on to another company that wasn’t the right cultural fit for me. I helped it rebrand and created an influencer marketing function before I decided that I needed to work within a market I was interested in. I have a personal love for weight training and Crossfit so I wanted to explore the fitness and wellness industry, either within marketing or by starting a new career as a PT.
I had heard of Gymshark through friends so I contacted its chief executive on LinkedIn to find out if it had any roles available, which resulted in two interviews and a new role as its women’s brand manager.
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I have been at the company for five years now, growing its PR, entertainment marketing and brand partnerships functions. It was one of the best career decisions I have made so far.
What career moment are you most proud of?
Creating a successful PR and entertainment marketing department as it didn’t exist when I started at Gymshark. The brand hadn’t worked with talent outside of its athlete roster, nor had it created relationships with media. Five years on, we have created a global network of brand advocates (paid and organic) and an extensive list of media partners, created disruptive events and campaigns, and had some of the world’s biggest VIPs wearing the brand.
What’s a piece of work you’ve seen recently that really blew your mind?
Jacquemus’s recent campaigns and activations. It really understands its consumer and how to engage with them. From its pop-up at Selfridges to its Bad Bunny campaign, pushing the boundaries and changing how brands show up – simple and effective guerrilla marketing, which is truly disrupting the industry.
Best advice you’ve ever received?
Never stop learning and evolving.
It has encouraged me to get mentors who can help me grow as an individual and within my career.
What are your views on the importance of awards?
Awards give talent, brands and agencies the recognition they deserve.
It’s important for those who worked on the project to be recognized for their hard work and success.
If you could fix one problem in the marketing industry, what would it be?
How we measure ROI (return of investment). We can track digital marketing campaigns, but out-of-home (OOH) and organic coverage is much harder to track and convert.
Where do you turn for inspiration?
I look at trends within youth culture. How they’re engaging with brands, what interests them and what their micro passions are, using that as inspiration when working on upcoming activations and events.
And how do you switch off/maintain a work-life balance?
I’m yet to figure out a work-life balance – it’s something I have always struggled to do. Especially as I love the industry and company I work for, so I live and breathe the brand.
I do try to make time for myself by going to the gym, finishing at a reasonable hour during the week and not working on weekends.
I am also a big advocate for people taking breaks by either going on holiday or relaxing at home. Otherwise you’ll burn out, which isn’t good for you or your team.