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.Sonia Harris Pope is Managing Director of Harris PR, a creative agency based in Dublin. Sonia began as an Account Executive at Ellen Gunning PR in 1999, moving on to Walsh PR and Nagle PR before joining the Sunday Independent in 2003 as a Columnist and Features Writer. In 2004, Sonia moved back to the world of public relations, working as a Senior Account Executive at Thinkhouse and Account Director at Burrell before beginning Harris PR in 2009.
Name the one work tool that you couldn’t live without.
Basic answer alert - My iPhone 12 Pro Max. I’m just about to upgrade but I love it. It gives me utter freedom to work from anywhere as I can securely access our One Drive, as well as Teams and tweak Keynote, Excel, Word docs etc.
What communications innovation do you wish you had come up with?
It has to be email. I remember the days of standing at a fax machine sending press releases to news desks before external email was widespread in news organisations. Aside from the painful old days of dial up, it has completely transformed how, where and when we do business.
What is the best book you have read in the past year?
I read voraciously and love to escape into fiction or biographies. I generally have two books on the go; reading one and listening to one and I find it hard to pick just one book that I’ve loved this year. ‘Klara and The Sun’ by Kazoo Ishiguro has stayed with me. It’s an intriguing take on the potential roles AI have in our lives and an exploration of faith versus logic. It’s beautifully written and challenges our attachment to not only a fictional character, but to one of artificial intelligence. Stanley Tucci’s narration of ‘Taste’ had my mouth watering - the way that man says butter should be banned. I feel like I’m still in a book hangover from Bernadine Evaristo’s ‘Girl Woman Other’. It should be on the school curriculum and is in my all time top 10.
Why did you decide to follow a career in PR?
I started in PR and then spent a few years writing for the Sunday Independent before returning full time to PR. For me the lines are closely blurred. I had been working in agencies for a decade when I set up Harris PR. I wanted to do something a bit different, to make all clients, from blue chip to independent businesses feel that they had someone who cared as much about their business as they did. We really are an extension of their team and that’s what I love most about where I landed.
What do you know now that you wish you knew at the start of your career?
How to achieve a better work life balance, the beauty of working from home and virtual meetings. I’ll never spend 14 hours at a time out of the house, missing meals with my family and important moments and milestones. I hope that’s a difference I can make with my team, that they have the flexibility to enjoy their home and work life in a balanced way. The work always gets done.
What are the three biggest PR challenges that you face?
Budget- Everyone says that, right? If only we had huge budgets for every brand. But in reality we pride ourselves in making budgets fulfil their full potential. It’s a challenge, but also an opportunity to show the true impact of earned coverage.The Covid-19 Pandemic - I think this is a challenge that all businesses face. We’re still in the hangover of the last two years and we’ll be facing challenges as a result for years to come, especially in areas such as employment but mostly in overall health. It’s still prevalent, people are still anxious about it and it’s something we constantly need to consider in future planning.The News Agenda and Fake News - There’s so much going on in the world from the UK to Ukraine. We need to be mindful of this and careful to be respectful at all times. It’s always been unpredictable but the news agenda develops and unravels so quickly now. As for fake news and deep-faking, well that’s a whole other area of concern (and possibly a fourth challenge.)
Tell us about a campaign or piece of work that you’ve worked on that you are proud of.
There are many but we were recently awarded Highly Commended for our work supporting Domino’s “Freshness, Value and Innovation Campaign" at the Awards for Excellence in PR. I’m particularly proud of this week as we’ve been working with Domino’s since the agency's inception and work closely with the PLC comms team, the Chief Executive and Marketing Director in Ireland, the franchisees and their store teams. It’s such a great brand to work with. We get to celebrate their innovation in tech and food and work with some truly talented and brilliant people. They understand that making and delivering piping hot, fresh pizzas made with only the highest quality ingredients is important to customers.Harris PR was tasked with raising awareness of Domino's credentials, food innovation and market-leading nationwide deals. The campaign resulted in fantastic coverage with over 200 pieces of media coverage, a further 200 pieces of organic social coverage and a reach of over 55.5 million, as well as increased brand awareness, awareness of their freshness and quality credentials and awareness of the customer value proposition. I really love working with them, showcasing our creativity and being an extension of their team.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in their career in PR?
Read everything. Put in as much effort on the boring bits as the exciting bits. Be part of a team, ask question after question and develop your own relationships. Add a spark of personality to your emails and don’t just copy and paste everything. Make sure you truly understand what you are doing.
What are the three biggest lessons that you have learned throughout your career?
Not everyone will love every idea. It’s difficult when you really believe in an idea or a creative angle and the client wants to go in another direction, but I’ve learned that that’s okay. It might happen at some stage, it might not. There are no bad ideas, but not everyone agrees on what’s good.
Be sound. Whether it’s to your colleagues, clients or media, you never know what people are going through so give them the benefit of the doubt. Everyone has a bad day and you don’t want to be the person who makes it worse.
Keep learning. Harking back to the days of fax machines to where we are now, the need to upskill is constant. You can’t be an expert in everything so lean on the ones who are, but it’s important to continue to grow and remain open to new ideas, technologies and systems.
Name three principles that you hold dear when it comes to your PR work.
Integrity is at the heart of how we do business. We are honest and open in everything we do. We build client relationships that are based on mutual trust and respect and the reassurance that we will always recommend the best course of action, based on our experience and knowledge.
Getting results - as much as I love the creative side, we’re here to get results and I still get a buzz from great coverage.
Your relationships are important. Nurture your clients, your media contacts and most importantly, your colleagues.
If you could make one lasting change in the PR industry, what would it be?
I’d love to embed ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) into all campaigns. I feel emerging brands ensure sustainability and their imprint on the world is at the forefront. It’s more difficult for established brands but it’s worth the investment. It’s what the next generation wants from their brands and really, it just comes down to it being the right thing to do.
What are your top three media relations tips?
Understand who you are pitching to.
Know when to stop.
Keep in touch with your key media, follow them on social media and develop an understanding of what’s going on in their lives.
What do you love most about working in PR?
The variety. From pizza to charity, from whiskey to babies and everything in between. I love the variety of work, but above all I love the variety of people. Everyday I get to connect with people I respect and admire. The connections we make through PR, with clients, media and colleagues, are so valuable. It’s like a big dysfunctional family, except you get to choose who comes to the table.
Who in the media do you most admire and why?
Tough question, there are so many people who have been around for years and so much emerging talent but the person I most admire is my husband, Conor Pope. He’s been working for The Irish Times for over two decades and contributes weekly to RTÉ, Virgin Media and so many other TV and radio outlets. I don’t know a more ethical, honest or fair person. Through his consumer work he touches individual people’s lives. He makes change happen at a government policy level and encourages big businesses to do better for their customers. He’s also a great Dad and cook, but that’s less relevant.
Who was your first boss in a media related job and what did you learn from them?
Jim Walsh of Walsh PR. Such a lovely, encouraging and supportive person. I was brand new, had taken a year out of university to try my hand at PR and was so young and green at only 18. I was pretty clueless but I was so grateful for the opportunities and the guidance. I learned to have no fear. I recall wanting to do anything to get into the boardroom and be involved in a pitch. I didn’t just want to deliver the coffee (I was terrible at making coffee back then). I remember they were pitching a Karaoke product to Hasbro and Jim let me perform to the client to demonstrate our idea for a roadshow around toy stores in Ireland. I don’t have much of a voice, but I’d like to think I have the X factor. I gave it my all and ended up spending three weeks travelling around toy stores in Ireland performing Britney Spears songs. We must have done something right. So I learned to be brave, the importance of embracing the brand and how to keep a sense of humour - seriously, you should hear me sing.More about SoniaLinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/soniaharris/Twitter: @SoniaHarrisPRWebsite: www.harrispr.ieInstagram: @harris_pr
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