My Life in PR – This Much I Know, is an interview series that talks to PR professionals about their career journey and what they’ve learned along the way. From the innovation that they wish they had invented, to their favourite books and the biggest challenges that they face on the job. This series covers more than just career advice and takes a look at the person behind the title.Barbara Elliott is Managing Director of Touchstone Communications, a small dynamic PR consultancy with extensive experience in many business sectors. Barbara began her PR career with the Irish Cancer Society in 1990 and moved to PR at the Helme in 1994, subsequently renamed GH Communications, where she became a Senior Account Director. She left in 2005 to form Touchstone Communications, where she works with a range of B2B, B2C and not-for-profit clients.
Name the one work tool that you couldn’t live without.
My smartphone, I’m not sure how I would manage without it.
What communications innovation do you wish you had come up with?
Email or the internet.
What is the best book you have read in the past year?
My husband buys me quirky books as presents. My latest favourite being ‘The Book of the Dead: Lives of the Justly Famous and the Undeservedly Obscure’ by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson. Entertaining bios about a cross-section of interesting people, some who are still famous and others who should be but somehow are not.
Why did you decide to follow a career in PR?
I studied Marketing at night and worked in a big market research agency during the day, where I first came across PR consultants and agencies. It looked like incredibly interesting and varied work to me. I got the chance to work in PR a couple of years later, when I joined the Irish Cancer Society as part of the first in-house PR team for its Daffodil Day campaigns, and stayed for several years. There I found a wonderful boss and mentor in Helen Gelletlie, the public relations manager at the time. Although I was very much the newbie, she listened to my suggestions and took on board several of them, which was a huge confidence booster. She had a great sense of humour and understood about keeping your perspective. She was the first to tell me that I had a talent for the business and encouraged me to pursue a career in it.
What do you know now that you wish you knew at the start of your career?
When it comes to media pitches, sometimes you do have to take 'no' for an answer. Accept it, don't let it get you down, there'll be other times when it will work out brilliantly.
Tell us about a campaign or piece of work that you’ve worked on that you are proud of.
My late Dad lost his right arm when he was 21. Nevertheless drove like he was in F1, but had to overcome challenges. So I am always proud to work on any campaigns for the Disabled Drivers Association of Ireland (DDAI). Our last two launches were for the Fuelservice App and the DDAI Spacefinder app, all designed to assist drivers with a disability in doing what many of us take completely for granted, like filling up your car and finding the right parking space.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in their career in PR?
It’s a simple thing but always check your spelling, especially people's names. Nothing quietly irks them more. My first PR boss once had me ring the RTÉ press office three times to check the spelling of presenter Anne Doyle’s first name for a press release, there was no internet then.
What are the three biggest lessons that you have learned throughout your career?
- Timing is everything and slow news days can be wonderful or terrible.
- The power of the right photo to bring a story to life should never be underestimated.
- Always be curious and ask questions. Inspiration can come from the most unlikely sources .
Name three principles that you hold dear when it comes to your PR work.
- The story (and image) is king, so be honest with your client. If there truly isn't one, then say so.
- Journalistic writing is integral to our work, so keep reading the best.
- You never stop learning in this business, always be willing to do so and keep an open mind.
If you could make one lasting change in the PR industry, what would it be?
More focus on improving writing skills for media.
What are your top three media relations tips?
- Do your media research - if you don't read what they write, then how do you know what to pitch them?
- Every pitch must stand on its own merits, so put the work into making it as interesting as possible.
- Good manners cost nothing and a simple thank you can go a long way.
What do you love most about working in PR?
Finding the story, writing about it, pitching it in, then seeing it 'come to life' in the media. It never gets old.
Who in the media do you most admire and why?
Julie K. Brown, the dogged Miami Herald investigative reporter who pursued the Epstein story when no one else was interested and is the one most responsible for bringing him to final justice. Closer to home, Miriam Lord, Ian O'Doherty and Paul Howard’s Ross O'Carroll Kelly are among my favourite weekly 'fixes'. I love their writing.
Who was your first boss in a media related job and what did you learn from them?
Helen Gelletlie, then PR manager of the Daffodil Day campaigns for the Irish Cancer Society. A great writer with great attention to detail and always willing to listen and support her team. She had wide media connections but firmly believed that a pitch should stand on its own merits. If you are always looking for favours, your calls (and later, emails) will cease to be returned.More about BarbaraLinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/barbara-elliott-mprii-b4820a8/Twitter: @BamtElliott
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