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NI Digital Expert interview: Emma Gribben

When I moved to Northern Ireland in 2009, I felt a bit like a fish out of water. Culturally it was a huge change from my native Netherlands, and the digital community in NI was a very different environment from what I was used to.

But I shouldn’t have worried – the people in Northern Ireland embraced me with open arms and quickly made me feel welcome and part of their community. The digital industry was especially welcoming, and I quickly made good friends with many people working locally in the digital realm.

Having worked in Northern Ireland for over seven years now, I feel that many of our best and brightest digital experts are not always getting the recognition they deserve beyond NI’s borders.

While I’m lucky enough to speak at international conferences regularly, few of my peers in the digital industry in Northern Ireland have managed to create a name for themselves outside of NI.

I want to do what I can to change that. To that end, I am performing a series of interviews with local Northern Irish digital experts that I feel are at the top of their game, and deserve wider recognition in the UK & Ireland and beyond.

Through these interviews I’m hoping to help promote these NI digital experts to the rest of the world, and perhaps contribute – however modestly – to a wider appreciation of their skills and abilities.

The first person to feature in this series of interviews is Emma Gribben. I first met Emma when I did a guest lecture for the Ulster University, and later I collaborated with her when she was the Digital Marketing Executive at Linwoods Healthfoods. For me, as an agency-side supplier of digital marketing services, Emma was a breath of fresh air; she came fully armed with a comprehensive digital strategy for Linwoods, which made working with her very easy and rewarding.

Emma has since started her own business as a freelance digital marketer, and she’s also working as a TV presenter for Irish TV. Below you can read all about Emma’s journey in to digital marketing.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey in to the digital industry: how did you discover the internet, and how did you become so involved with it?

I grew up in the era where social media was just starting to become a thing – in my school days we had Bebo but we weren’t quite sure how to use it and we had absolutely no concept of the possibilities that social media and the internet could offer us.

I did the CAM degree at the University of Ulster and digital marketing at that time was starting to become quite big, there was a lot of talk about it. Because it was new, the course didn’t have a dedicated module focusing on digital, so once I graduated I decided that I needed to skill myself in that area, as I saw it as the future from all the reading and research that I was doing at the time. I completed the Digital Media Communications course at Ulster University – I’m very proud to say we were the first year of the course and recently got invited back to share our experience with some potential applicants.

From there my passion was ignited, I loved that the digital industry could provide so many solutions and new opportunities. From there I decided that I wanted to focus on digital full time and I jumped at a role with Linwoods Healthfoods as a Digital Marketing Executive with both hands!

You have a formal education in communication, advertising, and marketing. Do you feel that there was sufficient focus on digital technologies in your studies? How did the DMC post-graduate course you undertook later help you focus more on the digital side of marketing & communication?

At the time when I was doing CAM there was not a strong enough focus on digital marketing – I graduated in 2010 so you can see how much it has evolved since then. I think because digital was still a new things it was hard to work out what the course should teach people.

The DMC course was fantastic, a really solid starting point for any digital strategy or project. Now I still utilise the models and frameworks that I learned in DMC and I find myself teaching these to a few of my digital training clients, which is nice to be able to pass on the information which helped me so much!

You’ve had a few in-house roles before you decided to work for yourself. What made you decide to start your own business? Tell us a bit about your journey in to self-employment.

I’ve always been quite independent and ambitious since a young age and starting my own business was something I’d always wanted to do. My father was and still is a role model in that sense; he saw an opportunity in the market 20 odd years ago and built a successful business out of nothing so I always felt that it was something in my blood.

I worked client side with Linwoods Healthfoods and I absolutely loved that role, I’ve never been happier in my life. The experience was great and the Board of Directors there were very ambitious with their plans so there was a lot of activity and growth.

I soon realised that I wanted international experience and it would be now or never before I settled down so I took the leap and moved to Dubai. That was a whole other world and I learned more about life than anything else I suppose! I had a fantastic role there and really got to experience international culture. I was amazed by the fast pace of life there and if somebody wanted to make something happen they just did. Projects that would take years here in the UK happened in weeks and months, there was a real sense of ‘go for it, make it happen’ and that influenced me to a great degree.

Whilst I was there I started to think about my life path and my passions and I wanted to do something meaningful that would make a difference – something that I could create. I thought long and hard about starting up on my own and I think everything guided me to that point and I just went for it. I’ll admit, I had no idea what it would take and I think if I did it might have put me off, but the excitement, the passion, the ability to control my own future pushed me forward!

You’ve established yourself fairly quickly as a top all-round digital marketer in Northern Ireland. Is there a specific area in digital marketing that you feel you’re strongest in? And which of your digital skills would you like to develop further?

I don’t know if I would say that now, as I always feel that there is so much room to learn – especially in digital marketing as it moves so quickly day to day. When speaking to clients I love the buzz when we can identify an area that we can work on and build something from and that’s what keeps me going – seeing the results at the end of a project. I work a lot with social media at the moment as many brands have witnessed the shift in social from organic reach to paid advertising. Some companies were achieving fantastic reach results and those have now gone through the floor as Facebook and others change algorithms and make those companies now pay for the reach that they were previously able to achieve day in, day out.

The most exciting area that I’m working in is digital training. I saw an opportunity in the market where many businesses no longer want to pay somebody to ‘do digital’ for them, but they want to learn and have that ability in house as they see it as a longer term project. I have worked with some amazing clients across retail, hospitality, media and investment to deliver digital marketing training and for me, this is going to be an area of focus for the rest of the year.

I’d like to develop my SEO skills as at the end of the day, every client with a website wants more traffic. I’ll be honest, I leave PPC to the professionals as it’s a bit of a science. I work with my clients to create a PPC strategy and I have a great agency locally that I work with on their PPC and they do the intricate stuff that would take me weeks. I like to work with clients to steer the ship in the right direction and get the best possible skills on board to make it a success.

You’re now also a TV presenter for Irish TV. Do you see that side of your career taking off and becoming your sole focus, or will you always stay a digital marketer first and foremost?

My experience so far with Irish TV has been unbelievable! It’s something that I never thought I’d achieve in my wildest dreams but every day we are out filming I feel so blessed and lucky to be able to do that. The thing that I really like is that there are so many people, groups, clubs, bands and organisations doing amazing work throughout County Armagh and I may be able, through Irish TV to help others learn about them and what they do, and even support them or get on board.

This role is very important as a digital marketer as I am literally challenging myself day and daily to create engaging content – something that I am always discussing with clients. It has helped me become a better digital marketer and get a clearer perspective on story telling.

I absolutely love digital marketing and it will be my key focus – right now I am doing the work with Irish TV one day per week so I have plenty of time to build my business and deliver great results for my clients.

You were the Armagh Rose of Tralee in 2013/14. For those of us who have no idea what that means, tell us a bit about it.

The Rose of Tralee is an international festival that celebrates Irish roots and we all know that Irish people are renowned throughout the world! Even though we are one of the smallest land areas our people go far and wide.

The Rose of Tralee has an ambassador from every county in Ireland and many countries across the world, with a big festival every August in Tralee, County Kerry with one lady being chosen as that year’s Rose of Tralee and they have a fantastic year of travelling and profiling worthwhile causes and trying to bring a positive change into the world.

It was Linwoods Healthfoods that encouraged me to apply in 2013 and I saw it as a challenge and definitely out of my comfort zone so I went for it and gave it a go! I was shocked when my name was called out as the Armagh Rose as I was just doing it for the craic – I didn’t think I’d win!

For me, the best part was meeting 60 odd roses from right across the world and 32 guys who were called escorts (not in that sense!) and we all got to know each other and learn a lot from hearing about our different backgrounds and way of life. The one thing that connected us was a sense of pride in where we came from and the ambition to better ourselves to do something positive in this world.

Three years later I am still very much connected with the 2013 gang as we call it, you could easily travel round the world and have a bed for the night by calling to say hi with all our connections.

Lastly, give us one website or app that you feel is vastly underrated and deserves a wider audience.

I have to admit that I am absolutely addicted to Canva – I use it on a daily basis and I often ask how something so useful and easy to use can be free! It is an image creation tool where you can use pre-loaded templates, shapes, lines, frames, borders as well as uploading your own assets. I tell all my clients about it and once they start using it they love it. If you have not yet tried it out you need to!

About Emma Gribben, Digital Marketing Consultant

Emma Gribben
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