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Setting the Northern Ireland Tourist Board on Fire

Fire IMC came out of the embers of Manley’s in 2001. We had been growing into a powerful advertising agency over the past ten years, from the design company that I had joined. We were also a bit of a mystery to the rest of the ad world as we were based in the unglamorous setting of an industrial estate on the outskirts of Belfast. The IMC stood for Integrated Marketing Communications, which meant the advertising, PR and design teams provided clients with a coordinated service. A new concpet in marketing at the time.

We had only rebranded a few weeks earlier when we got an invitation to pitch for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. A huge account. Over £1m per year.

We had no chance. But we went for it anyway. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I started thinking. This would be a huge challenge. McCann, Andersons, AVB, Genesis, all the big players were going for this. We could win it, but we were a new name and I know that we were starting from behind the eight ball.

What would make us and our presentation stand out? Be different, Be confident Be creative! What is unique about Northern Ireland? What is surprising about Northern Ireland?


The Troubles were not long over. The first thing that people thought about when the name was mentioned was violence and political turmoil. How could we get over that?

Not by pretending it didn’t exist, but by using it to surprise people. Judo, use the wieght if expectation to turn things around. Then get into the benefits of a short break. Show people after their break, feeling better and revived. Don’t just show nice video of the places to go, give people reasons to take a short break.

Let’s pitch with balls! After all, we had nothing to lose, and everything to win.

I wrote “Where – Northern Ireland?” Surprise people with the things to do and places to visit. Where? Northern Ireland! Everyone had seen the Giant's Causeway in every ad since advertising began. Let's show people having a good time.

Adrian and the team developed the thoughts into “Add a Splash of Colour to Your Life – Where – Northern Ireland!” We added PR stunts, developed storyboards, press executions, and headed out to the pitch.

They provided a projector and we had ten minutes to present the creative. We started the pitch, the team all dressed in black and grey apart from me in full-colour shirt and tie. There was a smell of burning and their projector burst into flames. This was not planned. Our first pitch as Fire and…FIRE!

Thankfully we had our own. We finished the pitch.

We waited.

Two weeks later we won. Or to put it another way - we had kicked ass!

We made great ads (you can see the on this site). We made some money. We employed new people. We developed talent.

We also heard that one of the losing managing directors had written to complain. Lol!

The Business Lesson: Be Brave. Don’t second guess all the time – go with your knowledge and experience, trust your team’s talent. And bring a spare projector.