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.Donnchadh O’Neill is Managing Director of Gibney Communications, who have been managing reputations and positioning clients to achieve their corporate objectives since 1995. Starting with the Kildare Nationalist at age 17, Donnchadh went on to study Communications in DCU. After graduating in 1995, Donnchadh spent a year working as a Journalist for the Leinster Leader, before moving to RTÉ as a Producer of flagship current affairs shows. In 2001, Donnchadh became a Senior Consultant at Murray Consultants before joining Gibney Communications in 2005.
Name the one work tool that you couldn’t live without
For our line of work, it has to be the phone. I wasn't an early adopter of the smartphone - I never saw the utility of things like Blackberry and those early phones with styluses. But for the past 10 years or so they have been revolutionary.
What communications innovation do you wish you had come up with?
Probably the mobile phone. I think the five year old me did invent it, without realising US military was way ahead of me. But apart from that, I'd love to crack the Hoverboard.
What is the best book you have read in the past year?
I'm halfway through "The Nineties" by Chuck Klosterman and it's riveting. He brilliantly documents little cultural moments and the ripple effects they have had that carry through to today.
Why did you decide to follow a career in journalism?
My late and loved uncle Des Maguire was a brilliant old school journalist with the Irish Press and Farmer's Journal. I was fascinated by what he did so I think I was always going in this direction. When I got a start in the Kildare Nationalist as a 17-year old I was hooked.
What do you know now that you wish you knew at the start of your career?
Probably everything. If I knew it then, life would have been easier but not as interesting. Learning is a constant joy.
What are the three biggest PR challenges that you face?
1. The move to virtual meetings over the past two years has had many upsides, but we're losing a certain amount of invaluable interpersonal interaction - how to read a room, sidebar conversations for intelligence. I think there will be a move back towards this.2. The undermining and underfunding of the media is a huge challenge for society. While self-publishing gives clients great autonomy and room for creativity, we do need a free, vibrant press for objective analysis and proper endorsement of good work.3. And finally, technology is a challenge as much as a tool. Clients can be exposed (rightly or wrongly) through undercover recordings, leaking of social media messages and cyberattacks. It means that crisis communications plans need to be established, watertight and tested.
Tell us about a campaign or piece of work that you’ve worked on that you are proud of.
In the corporate world, we are often dealing with high profile and sensitive topics that we can't talk about, so when we do get recognition it's fantastic. Gibney Communications won two PRCA Awards this year - one for Public Affairs for our work with Growing Media Ireland on highlighting the importance of horticultural peat as a vital element in Ireland's world-renowned food industry. We also won with a social-media-based consumer information campaign with our brilliant long-term client Dublin Port Company to promote water safety in the Port area.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in their career in PR?
Hone your writing, build your contacts and be an expert on all technological innovations - it's a space that you can make your own.
What are the three biggest lessons that you have learned throughout your career?
- Things change fast. It only feels like yesterday when I was leaving college but the tools we now use weren't even invented then. Staying on top of that has been fascinating, but a good story is still the heart of everything.
- You need to balance work and life. But a few years of really applying yourself will stand to you in the long run and let you progress faster. It's that 10,000 hours idea.
- Contacts that you make early stand to you in the long run, but you need to keep refreshing those contacts and building relationships with new people.
Name three principles that you hold dear when it comes to your PR work.
Fight for your clients, guard your credibility and make sure it's enjoyable.
If you could make one lasting change in the PR industry, what would it be?
There has been a lot of great work in recent years on building skills within the sector and we need more of this education and training.
What are your top three media relations tips?
They're simple really - build and look after your contacts, pick up the phone rather than email (please) and make sure you have a really good angle.
What do you love most about working in PR?
I love the diversity of working in a PR agency. You get to counsel organisations and CEOs across a range of sectors on their biggest reputational issues which is a huge privilege. To then achieve successful outcomes is extremely rewarding.
Who in the media do you most admire and why?
Who can't but admire Charlie Bird and the amazing inspiration he is delivering for people in the toughest time of his life. His 'hand of friendship' message is simple but powerful.
Who was your first boss in a media related job and what did you learn from them?
When I started in the Kildare Nationalist, Jane Mullins and Barbara Sheridan gave me a small contacts book and told me it would be the most important tool I would ever have. Well, within a year I needed a much bigger one and it sits beside me to this day. Even now, when most things go straight into the phone or the cloud, someone in the office still comes to me for a number that can be found from that (big) black book. You weren't wrong ladies!More about DonnchadhTwitter:@donnchadhoneillLinkedIn:https://www.linkedin.com/in/donnchadhoneill/
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