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Homecoming as PR firm expands into Waikato

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When BlacklandPR set up its Waikato office, Greta Shirley seized the chance to come home.

One of five staff in the boutique PR firm, she is back in her hometown of Hamilton after a stint in London.

Waikato is a sensible move for the Wellington-based firm, which already has agribusiness and science clients on its books and is conscious of the region’s growth.

Greta says the company sees steady GDP and job growth, and a 120 percent rise in commercial consents in one year, as signals of a sophisticated Waikato business sector

She has been busy meeting and greeting people since April, when she started as Waikato director.

As a former marketing and communications manager at Niwa in Hamilton before her London stint, Greta has connections to build on, and the firm already does some work with DairyNZ and Niwa.

“It’s really nice to be home. It’s really evident how sophisticated Waikato is becoming and the incredible growth that’s gone on,” she says.

“Growth can be a double-edged sword because you come under the national spotlight, and that means you’re open to criticism or being talked about. That’s where we come in to provide some advice and support.

“We believe in doing the hard work, and we really enjoy getting to do difficult stuff and be hands-on with it.”

BlacklandPR has a strong government relations focus, with all three directors having worked in Parliament, and Waikato firms can expect Greta to help them make those connections.

She says Waikato is grappling with some topical issues, particularly in the agribusiness, energy and science sectors – such as the Zero Carbon Bill, renewable energy, the m.bovis outbreak, regional development and water quality.

“We are helping Waikato businesses to engage with Wellington on issues like these, bridging the provincial and urban divide.”

She says her job is helping organisations meet their business objectives.

“If they have a business objective we will come up with an innovative strategy to influence and persuade the right people.

“We really believe it’s most persuasive when people talk and act like real people.”

That’s something she sees in heartland Waikato.

“The robust, plain speaking, pioneering Waikato style can be as much a secret to PR success as it is to our social and economic success,” she says.

“Big city organisations and businesses lose public and political battles because they do not advocate their case with sufficient passion, purpose and clear evidence – to the people that matter most to them. That’s the Waikato advantage, still untainted by big city over-thinking.”

The firm has a further connection with Waikato through director Mark Blackham, who was raised in Hamilton.

He says the company, founded in 2012, has long wanted to provide its services to Waikato. “In our sector, everyone wants to serve the big end of town in Wellington or Auckland. Our heart is in the suburbs and the regions, where New Zealanders live and work.”

A former journalist and producer, Greta has worked in TVNZ newsrooms and the parliamentary press gallery before moving into communications. Since 2006, she has worked both as a consultant, and in in-house leadership roles, for clients in the science, environmental, energy, pharmaceutical and public sectors.

In London, she was head of communications and marketing for pharmaceutical specialist Walgreens Boots Alliance.

She’s now enjoying meeting people in Waikato.

“There is a huge amount going on here and I’m really fascinated by the way organisations are joining up and connecting with each other in order to showcase the capabilities in Waikato.”

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