MEGAN JOHN – WE MAKE STUFF HAPPEN
Sidmouth. The picturesque cream-tea and sun-bathing mecca, just a hop, skip and a jump from Exeter. You’d be hard-pressed to find a location that is more of a polar opposite to the sprawling urban jungle of London, but that is a comparison that Megan John – the Creative Communications Director of the creative production company We Make Stuff Happen (WMSH) – is able to make.
Having grown up in Basingstoke and studied at the University of Warwick, she then moved to London to start her career in PR. Working her way up from Account Executive level at PR agencies such as Unity and Frank PR, she eventually realised that she lived for the creative side of public relations and moved into creating and delivering experiential PR projects for globally known clients such as Marks & Spencer, Cadbury, DreamWorks, Innocent Smoothies and Cobra Beer. More on those a little later.
It was during her time at Unity that Megan met her partner Rich and, six years ago, she moved down to his hometown of Sidmouth, where they now live with their two sons Herbie and Bon (named after Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham).
Megan and I met a few weeks ago for a chat at the beautiful house that Rich’s parents have lived in for over thirty years. It is a magical, almost otherworldly, property with an extensive collection of garden areas, rolling down the hillside towards a river and, eventually, the beginning of The Byes (a riverside walk and one of the jewels in the crown of Sidmouth). A far cry from the suffocating surroundings in London that Megan had reached a saturation point with.
As we both reminisced about London (I grew up there too), she looked back at her time there with a bittersweet twinkle in her eye – that of someone who has endured adversity but pushed through it and is now in a better place. Giving her an excellent grounding in the world of PR and a client-base that most professionals in her field could only dream of, I could tell that she was thankful for her foundational time in the capital city, but equally as relieved to now be in Devon. You never forget the challenges you have faced or the lessons that you learned from them, but you sure are happy not to still be going through them. But this is a different season in Megan’s life. As well as working hard to establish a branch of Brighton-based, We Make Stuff Happen, here in Devon, she is also the mother of two boys aged three and under (a mighty task in and of itself).
Whilst WMSH offers a range of marketing and events services, Megan’s passion is in experiential PR. Some of you may be wondering ‘What is that?’. Well, as many brands attempt to connect with their current and future customers, there has been a recent awakening to the fact that even the most immersive of digital or retail experiences has its restrictions and limitations. Many companies have started to create and deliver PR experiences that place their brand bang in front of their customer base, allowing individuals to interact with the brand in some way. This can be anything from a pop-up stand to an art installation or social justice campaign. The experience is always highly creative, often unrelated to the function or purpose of the brand itself and, usually, the brand isn’t ‘front-and-centre’. Rather, the focus is put on the experience that the individual has and, consequently, is probably the most tactile and tangible form of marketing that a company could engage with.
Although not an everyday experience in Devon, this sort of activity is commonplace in London and the trend is starting to catch on. You may remember the recent sailing of a Viking Longboat down the River Exe by IKEA, where they also gave out free cream teas in partnership with Exeter Cookery School. Or, perhaps, the conversion of a red phone box into a one-person nightclub in Kingsbridge (the five thousandth commission of its kind by BT). As you can see, with the only restrictions being logistics and budget, the possibilities for brands to engage in a meaningful and memorable way, are almost limitless.
And, in a profession where people and brands are only as good as their ideas, Megan is a valuable asset indeed. Her job centres around understanding the needs of her clients and then creating a variety of top-quality executable ideas for them to leverage their brand against. She has a rare and unique skill set; highly organised and a real creative visionary. She manages the whole experiential PR journey from idea to execution – a truly challenging task.
One of the most rewarding parts of the job for Megan is that many of the projects which she is involved with, gain widespread media and social media coverage. It has become a fairly regular occurrence for her to hear or see people talking about projects which she has been fundamentally involved in delivering. In a world where more people are remote-working and relying on digital communication, I suppose it is the modern equivalent of ‘water-cooler conversation’. That must be a pretty cool feeling.
When I asked Megan about what the future holds for her and WMSH, she said,
“I just can’t wait for businesses in Devon to catch the experiential PR bug and start to see some really original and fun ideas come to life. It does so much more than just market a product or a brand. It actually brightens people’s day and gives them something unique and interesting to experience and talk about. As I spend more time in Exeter and ‘people watch’ it is clear that it is a really creative place. The number of artisanal producers, creatives and entrepreneurs is really exciting and I think that proves that there is an environment which is suited perfectly to more creative marketing and PR methods.”
With great anticipation, I look forward to seeing this become a reality in our city and region, as businesses hold on to the best parts of traditional communication methods whilst also embracing new and more creative ones. In a world where people are desperate to connect, having a customer experience where you feel less like ‘just another face in the crowd’ and more engaged with the brands that you buy from, can only be a good thing.
As a city, I think Exeter perfectly embodies the phrase ‘we make stuff happen’ so, to have a business with the very same name around makes perfect sense to me.