PR Rising Star is an interview series from MediaHQ that talks to up-and-coming PR professionals. It looks into why they decided to follow a career in PR, their predictions for the future of the industry and their favourite book of the last year.
Fodhla O’Connell-Grennell is an Account Executive at Thinkhouse, a Dublin based marketing agency powered by youth culture. Fodhla studied for a degree in Communications and Media Production in Griffith College, followed by a Masters degree in Climate Change: Policy, Media and Society at DCU. In May 2021, Fodhla began working with Vital Communications as a PR Client Executive.
At this time, she also worked with SpunOut, a national youth organisation, as their Sustainable Fashion Project Officer. In early 2022, Fodhla began her role as Account Executive at Thinkhouse and Associate Lecturer in Media Research, Cultural Studies and Public Relations at Griffith College.
Why did you decide to follow a career in PR?
In my undergraduate degree, I took an elective module in PR and instantly fell in love. Our entire project for the course was based on producing a PR campaign strategy - I felt that I was able to merge my logical thinking with being creative, which I really enjoyed.
As time progressed and I was studying my Masters in Climate Change, it really hit me the role PR played in the climate crisis. I read (and later watched) Merchants of Doubt - this gave me encouragement that if we want to see more sustainable change in any industry, we need to become part of that industry. I already loved PR as a career and hated the damaging ways it was used in the past, so that is why I decided to take this career path.
Specifically, tell us about your route into working in the PR industry?
When I completed my level 8 degree, COVID had just hit. It was really disheartening coming out into a world of cancelled internships and axed graduate programs. I decided, rather than doing nothing, I was going to make my own mini-internship for myself. I reached out to so many businesses which align with my own values over LinkedIn.
Here is where I met Fiona from Sustainable PR. She gave me a copywriting role in her business, initially writing weekly blog posts. I loved volunteering with Fiona, it gave me time to research and gain insight into the world of PR and environmental communications.
Afterwards, near the end of my Masters in Climate Change: Policy, Media and Society, I began working freelance with vYtality, part of Vital Communications. Aoife, Director of Vital, was my PR lecturer in my undergraduate and she mentored me while I worked with sustainable businesses under her vYtality division.
I recently joined Thinkhouse in January of this year and it has been amazing. I am so grateful and lucky that I get to work in a company which aligns so strongly with my own values.
What is your favourite thing about working in PR?
My favourite thing about working in PR has to be building strong relationships with people through creative means and making them happy. The role is always different, but if I get to think of a really fun press drop and execute sending it out - hearing feedback from whoever receives the drop is great. This applies to everything I do, whether it's events, gifts or just relationship-building chats - when everyone is happy, the world's a better place. Working in a positive space like that is my absolute favourite thing.
If you could make a lasting change in the PR industry, what would it be?
I've always worked in consumer PR - which is inherently about consuming. Consumption is obviously not good for the planet, but what I have been seeing since working in PR is that many brands are looking at making CSR initiatives and becoming more planet-friendly. Some brands unfortunately don't execute this in the most effective ways - they can find themselves being accused of greenwashing, which I believe can be unfortunate because nobody wants to discourage brands from making positive changes for people and the planet. But it is also a wakeup call to figure out what they are doing wrong.
From a sustainability perspective, the really awkward conversations need to be had. Whether it's just consulting sustainability professionals and learning from them about what's going on in the world, becoming aware of how your brand/ industry impacts the planet and consequently what you can do to help this - then we can talk about how you communicate this.
I love any PR project that involves huge research and I think the lasting change needs to be more CSR initiatives and more research. The product or service you are selling can come second and it still can be a highly successful campaign.
Name one person who has influenced your career and tell us why.
I would say one of my old lecturers, Barry Finnegan. He taught me in so many modules in my undergrad, but ultimately my favourite module was Investigative Journalism (so much so, I took it twice). It was in his module that I really grasped my interest (and the importance of) environmental communications.
My first project was based on fast fashion and its implications on the environment and I found out some really interesting things. Later on, I had the chance to write about carbon taxation too. He was/still is an amazing lecturer. He gave me so much direction and really engaged me critically with the climate crisis and if it wasn't for him, I can almost guarantee I wouldn't be as environmentally-conscious as I am and pursuing a career in that field. It just shows how important education in the area is.
Name one communications tool you couldn't live without.
MEDIAHQ! When I say MediaHQ does what my role was when I worked in my previous job - it is a dream tool. No more bounce back emails from journalists, no more spending hours even trying to find the correct emails for journalists and especially no more thralling through the internet trying to find the perfect journalist to contact (I love the lists function).
Tell us about a campaign or piece of work that you’ve worked on that you are proud of.
The first ever campaign I worked on was for PRIDE with a small Irish business called Faerly. They're an eco-friendly online retailer and I just remember being so nervous because it was my first ever real-life PR campaign.
Seeing what I have learned in those moments, compared to what I know now and what I will continue learning for the rest of my career just makes me so proud.
Finish this sentence. “The best way to connect your story to your audience is by...”
being authentic, creative, transparent and engaging.
What is your favourite hobby?
Lately - it's reading or going to the most gorgeous restaurants.
What is the best book that you have read in the last year?
This is a PSA: Beach Reads by Emily Henry. Or even TheLove Hypothesis. I just love easy, romance reads.
What is your binge watch recommendation?
Currently I am watching Derry Girls and I'm heartbroken it's over (so I will rewatch it and rewatch for the rest of time).
Name three trends that you think will be important in the PR industry in the next five years.
Influencers are absolutely going nowhere - Thinkhouse hosted a workshop with the Marketing Society of Ireland focused on gaming recently and it opened my eyes to the power of niche influencer marketing. The strengths of not only influencers, but niche influencers in the world of marketing and PR are just growing and growing.
I can already see the impacts new media and technologies have on PR - whether it's how Tik Tok influencers are showing up in the space or the impact podcasts have had in the PR world, I can only wonder what PR in the metaverse will shape up like.
Less of a push for consumerism and more of a push for CSR. I don't think product launch releases and so on will gain earned coverage alone, people want to see brands doing more and I think this is and will continue to hugely impact PR.
Which social media site is the most important to you and why?
Tik Tok - I'm a massive fan of seeing everyone being authentic and just having a laugh. I can't stand the seriousness of other social media sites sometimes.
Name one staple of the PR industry that you think will die out in the next five years.
I do not want to say this at all, but print media and magazines are a moribund art for my generation. Young people are more into digital media than anything else. I would love nothing more than to revive traditional media, but I don't know if the next five years are looking that great for it.
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