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HomeProfilesNo Gray skies: Cathy McHugh

No Gray skies: Cathy McHugh

Cathy McHugh

PR agency head Cathy McHugh describes herself as someone who “craves peace and quiet, but I find if I have even five minutes of silence I will start an enormous project that keeps me busy from dawn until dusk!” Cathy is Managing Director of Grays PR – which coming into its 16th year means more strategy, skill development and growth of the business for the next 16 years.

Grays delivers all sorts of work for clients – event management, publicity, social media, media liaison – is there a particular task you enjoy the most?
Of all the things I love, it is strategy.  I just love starting the conversation, seeing the opportunities and putting those plans into place.  So often our clients tell stories or share their business not realising they are sitting on a gold mine of opportunity with their story, to develop collaborations and increase their business. A photo shoot is also fun – just because they are fun!

Can you tell us about a campaign you’ve enjoyed working on?
There are obviously lots over the years, but most recent has been our work with managing the Debenhams Australia announcement.  This was a true publicity focused campaign that had to work with national media environment all wanting to lead with the story, get the jump on competitors and associated industry groups trying to ride the wave of an international brand launching into Australia.  So we needed to create a strategy to protect the launch, and then to ensure there was enough of a story to tell with the media.  We worked with national business media, and launched the brand into Melbourne with terrific press coverage and a great story to tell.  Making this a successful event was the client.  They had absolute trust in our strategy and deliverables and we worked together like a well-oiled machine – and the results showed, it was a terrific team effort.

So often our clients tell stories or share their business not realising
they are sitting on a gold mine of opportunity with their story

What’s the environment like at Grays? Tell us a bit about the team and how you divide work or specialities amongst yourselves.
We are an informal business – respecting and acknowledging that work life balance is left at the door – so we all manage our personal/business/social life under the one roof.  We have a terrific grounding of support, respect and trust and that’s a beautiful thing in this crazy world we live in.  Our structure is simple, and is still being refined with new and very experienced PR’s who have joined our team.

We have a terrific grounding of support, respect and
trust and that’s a beautiful thing in this crazy world we live in.

Generally, I’ll lead the BIG IDEAS and strategy – with input (there is no I in team). Our GM of Media and Communications the fabulous Michele D’Aloia keeps all of the projects moving, manages timelines and content and connects all of our clients with each other or in new platforms.  Kate, Natalie and Nadine deliver on everything – from PR, publicity, events and digital and social media platforms.  They are the engine that drives the car!

Do you think PR firms do enough work on their own PR? Discuss.
I think some do and some don’t.  It’s a balancing act.  Just when Grays is ready to start telling our stories, a client with a more important task at hand comes in.  It’s the lawnmower man who does everyone else’s lawn but his own.  I also think any PR needs to be of value, to make people think, learn or grow – but it depends on what space you play in the PR market and what value your story gives to growing your business.   For us it is about adding value, creating partnerships and learning and growing and sharing with our clients and contacts – much of this is done privately.  Our socials are a fun space of pictures and clients – not so much us.  But I believe our clients, our interaction with them, their feedback and support is our PR.

Cathy, Grays PRWhat advice would you give a third-year university student who’s keen to work in PR?
GO AND DO WORK EXPERIENCE.   And take your studies online – sign up to any and every media/comms/marketing/agency website you can – learn, read, grow, ask questions and find a mentor for advice and to bounce ideas off of.  I would also strongly recommend that any work experience you do adds value to what you want to do and how you want to be perceived and where you want your career to lead, don’t just take any internship or work experience.

Time for a fun question: when you were 12, what did you “want to be when you grew up”?
I wanted to work in death.  In forensics (math and science thwarted me on that), a morgue, a funeral parlour.  My dream client is a funeral parlour.  And if I can get work experience now I would grab it.  I have no idea why and it’s probably best we don’t look to deep into that, but death has always fascinated.  But in my retirement you may very well see me at a funeral parlour or in a cemetery.