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.Barry Kenny is Corporate Communications Manager at Iarnród Éireann, the operator of the national railway network of Ireland. In 1993, Barry graduated from University of Limerick with a bachelor’s degree in Business Studies (Marketing), going on to complete a post graduate diploma in Public Relations at Rathmines College the following year. In May of 1994, Barry began his career with Iarnród Éireann as Media and Public Relations Executive. In 1997, he was appointed as Media and Public Relations Manager and in 2006, Barry began in his current role of Corporate Communications Manager. Barry was also President of the Public Relations Institute of Ireland from 2010 to 2012 and had a regular travel slot on George Hook’s Saturday Sit-In on Newstalk from 2016 to 2018.
Name the one work tool that you couldn’t live without
The iPad Pro - I think I’d even keep it over my phone, though it comes with the same blessing and curse of meaning you can do anything anywhere.
What communications innovation do you wish you had come up with?
Any number of little gadgets that allow us all to be mobile content creators. I’m a bit of a sucker for all of that stuff and have an almost equal number of cameras or accessories that are either game-changing or “what was I thinking” possessions.
What is the best book you have read in the past year?
Winter is Coming by Garry Kasparov. Though given it was written in 2015, I only wish that I and everyone else had read his stark warnings about Putin back then.Why did you decide to follow a career in PR?I always assumed in my school days I’d end up in journalism and being on the air in particular was something I loved doing through things like student and pirate radio. But my detour through college brought me to a GradDip in PR in Rathmines. Even when I finished that, I can’t say I decided to follow it as a career until I started doing it. That’s when I discovered that the PR industry, particularly in the commercial state sector - where PR, communications, media and politics overlap - is endlessly varied, interesting and challenging.
What do you know now that you wish you knew at the start of your career?
Having an unstructured way of working allows you to respond to the unexpected, but there are actually better ways to be.
What are the three biggest PR challenges that you face
1 - Communicating our strategy and ambitions while managing expectations. With transport infrastructure especially we deal in long lead times, but demonstrating progress towards the end goal and bringing our stakeholders with us is crucial.2 - Managing the political - large and small P. It is a huge strength that people feel ownership and are invested in what we do. It does however mean that there are a lot of inputs and opinions to engage with and to work with.3 - The whole space that is internal communications. We have over 4,200 people at Iarnród Éireann who work together to deliver our services and manage our network. They are dispersed geographically and in a wide range and variety of roles. We have colleagues ranging from multi-generational railway people to those new to both the rail sector and Ireland. It’s a challenge, but one that is very rewarding when it goes well.
Tell us about a campaign or piece of work that you’ve worked on that you are proud of.
I am one of those odd people who will always get the most job satisfaction out of crisis management. Our COVID-19 response is one of them - the critical internal communications activity, working through social media to continue to engage with our customer base, many of whom were no longer travelling with us, and the liaison with stakeholders. It’s easy to forget how unknowable the situation was but I was very proud of how we worked through it. Though I never thought I’d be in a situation where my key message would be “please don’t take the train unless you absolutely must.” Thankfully those days are over.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in their career in PR?
Absorb the knowledge and expertise of your mentors. I was lucky to work with the late Cyril Ferris - my boss in Iarnród Éireann when I started out - and I still benefit from what I learned from him to this day.
What are the three biggest lessons that you have learned throughout your career?
Technology, speed and methods change, but the principles that underpin communications remain constant.
Never stop learning.
It’s rarely as bad as it seems. And the day it is, well that’s a real crisis!
Name three principles that you hold dear when it comes to your PR work.
Be clear and honest.
Treat people well.
Bring humanity and personality to communications - dull corporate speak does your organisation or your audience no favours.
If you could make one lasting change in the PR industry, what would it be?
Ensuring it’s a given that it’s at the top table for decision making everywhere.
What are your top three media relations tips?
Always be available - if it’s easy to reach your organisation on difficult issues, it’ll be easier to reach journalists on proactive initiatives.
Trust is built over time and destroyed in a second - don’t mess people around.
Know the requirements of the media you’re dealing with, and have the resources they need ready: interviewees, content, data, whatever is most crucial to the story you have to tell, and how they typically tell stories in turn.
What do you love most about working in PR?
I’m engaged, intrigued, educated and entertained every single day.
Who in the media do you most admire and why?
It's hard to keep it to one, so maybe a small few in different spheres… In journalism, specialists who doggedly pursue issues of public interest, even when those issues don’t always get the attention they merit - people like Carole Cadwalladr in Britain, and Conall Ó Fátharta, formerly of the Irish Examiner.In broadcasting, I think Sarah McInerney shows that you don’t need false fulmination to absolutely put an interviewee on the spot on matters of real importance.In PR/Comms, my tribe is the transport people and in buses, air, roads, there are and always have been some brilliant professionals. We all love Sean O’Neill of TII, a fantastic communicator and a really nice guy.
Who was your first boss in a media related job and what did you learn from them?
Cyril Ferris was my boss when I joined Iarnród Éireann from college, and definitely my mentor and most important influence in my career. He preached the ethos that we are supported by the State, and we have an obligation to our community to engage, answer and explain, from customers to media to politicians to all our stakeholders. AdditionallyIn June, I will be volunteering with Refugee Support Europe in Chisinău, Moldova, to provide aid, support and dignity to Ukrainian refugees and the local community hosting them. I am covering all my own costs, but am fundraising for Refugee Support Europe so they can continue to provide aid and support to victims of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. You can read more details and donate at this link, and I would be grateful for any support, however small or large. https://www.justgiving.com/Barry-KennyIE.
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