Posted on Tuesday 8 November 2016 by David Elliott
Diner: Claire Aiken, Aiken
Venue: Tony & Jen’s, Lisburn Road, Belfast
What do you get when you mix a brilliant breakfast guest with a brilliant breakfast venue?
A brilliant breakfast of course!
Regular readers of this column will realise that the use of such positivity are as rare as the use of exclamation marks, but in this case both seemed fair.
Maybe it was the coffee, maybe the feeling that we had feasted like kings, but every now and again we break the self-imposed exclamation mark rule.
Claire “the PR” Aiken and Ulster Business had a thoroughly enjoyable breakfast while discussing everything under the sun, and then some.
The south Belfast commuter traffic, seemingly hell bent on being as obstructive as possible that September morning, did its best to make us both late but that didn’t detract from a thorough run down of the past, present and future of Claire’s life in business.
Started 22 years ago in the offices of Aiken Promotions not far from where we’re currently sitting, Aiken has been a major player in the world of public relations in Northern Ireland ever since then.
The first client on the books was the pioneering chef with the mid-Atlantic accent Paul Rankin and there’s no doubt his subsequent success was down to Aiken’s work.
Business grew from there and really took shape when the firm signed Guiness to its books, a client it still maintains today under the guises of Diageo, a brand which it helped launch.
Claire is obviously a fan (although Pinto Grigio looks to me more her tipple than pint of stout if I had to guess) and said she enjoys working with them.
“What Diageo say, they mean,” Claire said. “When they say they want to tackle underage drinking then they make sure they tackle underage drinking.
“There’s a huge amount of integrity and responsibility with that business.”
Helped by Aiken stalwart Lyn Sheridan, who joined Lyn shortly after the business was founded, the firm went on to grow its customer base with gusto, landing some of the juiciest names around such as McDonalds, Progressive, Kingspan, ESB, CPL, London Heathrow, to name but a few.
Picking up new business is normally through referrals but the tie up with the burger giant necessitated a bit of luck and a large dollop of tenacity.
“I bumped into the head of communications at a wedding,” Claire said. “Then I heard he was speaking at an event in London so I flew over and waited until it was over so I could pitch to him.”
That was 13 years ago and since then Aiken have handled not just the Northern Ireland public relations for McDonalds but has also picked up its Scottish account.
Claire puts the firm’s success down to its people.
“We have a great team,” she said. “We don’t do silos, work really well together and keep in mind that there is more to life than work.
“It’s not all about the money.”
For the future, the focus will be on expanding the business on an all-island basis, from its offices both in Belfast and in Dublin, as well as providing an integrated communications service rather than solely public relations.
With that in mind, it was time to go, but what about the food, I hear you ask?
Well, before we go any further I must confess to a slight conflict of interest, what with being the son of one of Tony & Jen’s suppliers.
But don’t let that get in the way of a top class breakfast – me: the savoury sweet potato waffle with poached eggs, avo (T&J are down with the kids and I can confirm this is avocado) and their own version of sriracha (a hot chilli sauce from Thailand), her: the acai berry bowl – which all has the added benefit of being incredibly healthy.
Claire ate her’s in the sophisticated manner you would expect, while I wolfed mine down like a man possessed, hence the sriracha on the notes.
It makes a change from egg yolk.