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.Hannah Saunders is Founder and Director of Hannah Saunders PR. She graduated from UCD with a degree in Drama, English & Sociology in 2011. Hannah has worked in Dublin, London and New York as an Intern and Account Manager. In 2016, Hannah founded Hannah Saunders PR, a London based consultancy specialising in fashion, beauty, lifestyle and influencer PR.
Name the one work tool that you couldn’t live without
What communications innovation do you wish you had come up with?
What is the best book you have read in the past year?
‘Nightingale’ by Kristin Hannah.
Why did you decide to follow a career in PR?
I was inspired by my Dad who too works in PR. Growing up around him I got a sense for the energy, vibrancy, pace and creativity of this industry and I wanted a piece of it.
What do you know now that you wish you knew at the start of your career?
To be honest I am still learning. This industry is ever-changing and evolving and you need to be ready to adapt your strategy, ways of thinking and ways of connecting with people. I have learnt to not take the losses so personally, but that takes time. I have learnt that the wins generally mean 'great job, but let's do even better next time' or ‘we want more’. There is no pause button in this industry, so you can never let your foot off the gas.
What are the three biggest PR challenges that you face?
1 - Staying relevant and top of mind even If your client doesn't have regular new launches or news stories. 2 - Wanting it all but having a minimum budget (but we love a challenge!) 3 - Reassuring and encouraging your client to take a step back from their brand which is often their baby, and trusting in PR experts to broaden their horizons and step out of their comfort zones. Don't hire a PR agency if you don't want feedback that you may not like. It is really important to work with people who are honest and strategic thinkers and not just "yes people". You need to hire a PR team who will understand and align with your brand values, but who will also work with you to make them relevant to the wider public.
Tell us about a campaign or piece of work that you’ve worked on that you are proud of.
I am proud of a lot of campaigns that I have worked on over the last six years since founding Hannah Saunders PR. We launched two brands at the start of the pandemic which have seen much success. A fashion brand that we launched mid pandemic has gained over 40,000 followers in 18 months, has been featured in every high-end publication in the country, built a huge network of influential supporters and celebrity fans wearing their designs, and have opened their first bricks and mortar store which is thriving. It has been a really exciting journey to be a part of, and I am very proud of our involvement. It has in my eyes been a perfect partnership.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in their career in PR?
Find your niche. I often get people saying to me "I am really interested in PR" but PR is a very general term. I worked out that fashion, beauty and healthcare are areas that I really enjoy and excel in from a PR perspective. So look at what you are interested in, be it politics, food & beverages, fashion etc. and then start to refine your search to agencies in that space to get a feel for the direction you want to go in.Relationships are everything in this industry, mind them and build them. When I first started out in London, I went to about five events on my own every week to network. I used to go to publication houses to have desk side meetings with journalists. Face to face time is key, so get social, get networking and get connected. Know who you are pitching to. Read the magazines and papers and listen to the radio shows. Resilience is key - not everyday will be a good day in the office. Crisis comms are also part and parcel of what we do, it’s not all glam events and celebrities. Remaining calm and level headed will really stand to you as you kickstart your PR journey.Most importantly, get trendy! I hate the word, but in order to stand out you need to get ahead of the trend. Use this opportunity as a young PR professional to educate the more experienced members of the team/agency on the hottest new social trends and platforms. You will excel in your career really quickly if you can bring another layer of social media expertise to the team. You could very quickly end up being part of a major campaign or major client pitch if you bring expertise to the team that will help in making the agency feel ambitious, forward thinking and in the know. Age and job title don’t matter if you have a pitch winning idea, so go for it.
What are the three biggest lessons that you have learned throughout your career?
I am giving four!Don't take on clients that you don't personally believe in - it will not work. We as a team say if we wouldn't eat there, wear it, use it, buy it for a friend, or recommend it, we are not supposed to represent it. Authenticity is key. Don't be afraid to tell your client "this isn't news". There are times when a client can get excited about something, but it is our job as their PR representative to evaluate whether a hook is news/media worthy, or something that should be marked internally or at a consumer facing level. At the end of the day, clients pay us for our time, why would we spend our time and their investment pitching an angle that we know will not land or generate results? It may also frustrate key media contacts to receive a press release that doesn't have a strong hook.Be kind. I have worked in very toxic agency environments. Working in PR is relentless, it is a high pressure environment at the best of times. Our work is deadline orientated and clients can be demanding. Working in a toxic work environment is an unnecessary added pressure and stress that can easily be avoided. Since founding my own agency, I have tried to keep kindness and fairness at the core of what we do. My team work so hard and get the job done without me or any of the senior members micro-managing and breathing down their necks. Say thank you, say well done, ask how each other are. Your clients may not, but as an employer and a colleague that is so important and I remind my team of this regularly. Have a contract. It sounds like a basic starting point, but there are a lot of "favours" in the PR world. Avoid the blurred lines, agree your terms in writing and avoid any future issues.
Name three principles that you hold dear when it comes to your PR work.
Be realistic, be honest and know your audience.
If you could make one lasting change in the PR industry, what would it be?
Only one out of the nine employees who have ever been employed at my agency have studied PR. Some of the bigger agencies will only consider candidates who studied in x, y and z college and who have done x, y and z masters. Some may call us spin doctors, but we are not doctors (PR not ER and all that). I want to see PR agencies giving candidates who didn't necessarily study PR more of a chance. So much of this industry and what we do as PR people is learnt on the job. If I meet someone who is a grafter, a decent writer, passionate, energetic, a good networker and a forward and strategic thinker, I don't care if you studied basket weaving. I think our industry needs to be shaken up a little, to become less formal and more inclusive. Staying current and being adaptable is what matters in PR.
What are your top three media relations tips?
1 - Know who you are pitching to and always consider why you are pitching to them. Is the release/pitch relevant? Be informed, don't be lazy.2 - Media relations is a term formed on the word relation. Form relationships, get out from behind the inbox and try to get to know the journalist more. PR people and journalists work collaboratively, we help each other in doing what we do. The black and white of it is that we give them content, they give us coverage. We give them a story, they tell our story. You want to get to a point where you have editors coming to you and saying "Hannah I have this coming up, have you anything for me?". You scratch my back I scratch yours - that's the goal. 3 - Say thank you - it's really important to acknowledge those who have taken the time to write about, showcase and shine a light on whatever campaign, launch or story you are working on.
What do you love most about working in PR?
We have the ability to change people's brands and businesses for the better. When it goes well, it is really quite powerful and rewarding and I love being part of a brand's journey. When someone says to me "Hannah that brand is everywhere", that feeling never gets old.I love the pace, the energy and the vibrancy of this industry. I even love the competitiveness of it. Some might feel the intensity and pace of this industry will put you in an early grave. I however believe that the diversity, creativity, and the no two days are the sameness will keep me young and on my toes.
Who in the media do you most admire and why?
100% my Dad, John Saunders, CEO of Fleishman Hillard. He grafted his way through this industry from the age of 15 and is now CEO of the agency that has just won global PR agency of the year for the second year running. No one does it better than him, so I am very lucky to call my biggest admiration in this industry my Dad. I also admire and love reading anything from Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton. Here in Ireland, Bairbre Power is an incredible Fashion Editor. I really admire Ryan Tubridy as a truly gifted, intelligent and natural Presenter. I am food and restaurant obsessed and so love reading Corinna Hardgrave's reviews. Ciaran Hancock at the Irish Times and Killian Woods at the Business Post have both given great support for some of my clients that I will never forget. I really admire the team behind Sheer Luxe in the UK, I think they are such visionaries and they are constantly pushing the boundaries and coming up with new concepts and ideas to really engage their audience. Lastly, I am loving following Freya Drohan's journey in the US, a young Irish writer who is making a serious name for herself in New York writing for Daily Front Row - Anna Wintour, watch this space.
Who was your first boss in a media-related job and what did you learn from them?
Rhona Blake is no longer my boss on paper but a boss that I will always look up to. Rhona is an incredible mentor, networker and friend. Something I always really admired about Rhona aside from her impeccable style and the best blow-dry of all time, is that she really cares about her people, her team and her staff. She is the heart and soul of the Fleishman Hillard office and her energy is infectious. Rhona is the definition of a PR guru. Aside from the hard work, she never takes herself too seriously and shows us that though this is a bloody tough, competitive and relentless industry, you can have fun along the way. Rhona also taught me to always have a pair of heels under your desk as you never know who will walk through the doors.More about HannahInstagram:https://www.instagram.com/hannahcjsaunders/
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