Jenny Taaffe, iZest Marketing
29th July 2015
‘Meteoric rise’ is almost as irritating a phrase to an entrepreneur as ‘overnight success’, but Jenny Taaffe’s career in marketing and digital branding has been just that.
Words: Deirdre O’Shaughnessy
Having trained in hotel management – the family business – Taaffe realised she would be happier in a creative role and opted for a Masters in Marketing. While studying at Smurfit Business School in 2001,Taaffe impressed guest lecturer David Bunworth (formerly of Aer Lingus) so much that he offered her a job at Gresham Hotel Group on the spot.
She credits the experience gained at Gresham Group as formative; Bunworth was “one of the best marketeers” around, and she worked very closely with him. “It was amazing experience, I worked on marketing across their European hotels, at 22 or 23 to get that international experience was just brilliant”.
Taaffe’s next step was to join Pigsback.com. It sounds strange now, she admits, but Pigsback.com was incredibly innovative at a time when nobody had heard of digital and most hotels were only starting to think about websites. “We did the first online campaigns for Baileys and Guinness in Europe, it gave me the experience and confidence and it showed how digital could transform a brand.”
Becoming A Businesswoman
She rose quickly within Pigsback.com, becoming Managing Director by the age of 28, with “complete freedom” in the role. Not content to run someone else’s company though, Taaffe founded her own company, iZest Marketing, in 2011. She had her second child in 2013 and since then the business has grown substantially and now has 12 staff, including her husband Alan, who runs it with her.
They specialise in travel and retail and based on previous experience, they like to deal directly with the decision maker. “We looked at it and realised that our best performing clients were those we were dealing with at a senior level. We don’t pitch for business, we work with relationships.”
It’s a very specialised, very personal business and this focus on key relationships has led to the establishment just last month of iZest Influence – a separate company focused on monetising personal digital brands for high profile people.
iZest Influence responds to a growing demand for personal branding and reputation management. Unlike a PR, talent or sports agency however, iZest Influence is all about the return; about making money for the client from their digital presence.
High Profile Clients
The client who planted the seed of iZest Influence is the billionaire owner of Al Mana, whose diverse digital strategy iZest Marketing works on. When the client’s personal digital profiles became problematic, with fakes set up and too many different aspects to manage separately, the creation of a personal site to manage the business owner’s digital presence was a template for this new idea.
Irish readers will be familiar with the recent rebrand of Pippa.ie, the website of model and style blogger Pippa O’Connor. Taaffe knew O’Connor’s husband, Brian Ormond through work and the couple had come to her to seek advice on redesigning Pippa’s site.
“The site kept crashing and we did loads behind the scenes to help out with it. But we didn’t want to just build a site – it’s always a strategy, about creating a business for them. It’s commercially focused. There are many brilliant agents out there but they’re in sport, PR or TV. Digital strategy is separate, and it’s not being handled properly.”
The figures speak for themselves; using the strategy developed by iZest Influence, Pippa.ie has generated a six-figure sum since April.
With clients worldwide, the Irish market is only a starting point for both businesses. iZest Marketing has recently signed a deal with Fitzpatricks Hotels [this interview is done by phone, from a New York cab] and they are hoping to sign two significant international figures to iZest Influence by the end of the year.
With two young businesses and two young children, the pressure is high. However, Jenny’s husband, Alan, runs the business with her and between them, they juggle; this week, he’s at home with the kids while she seals the deal in New York.
She’s the creative brain, he is technical and financial. Working so closely together “has its challenges, but at the moment it’s very practical,” she says. Eventually, she foresees the two companies splitting off – they’ve been set up that way. Whatever happens Taaffe and iZest are brands to watch.