Company: Morrow Communications
Track Record: There is no such thing as a typical day for PR director Kieran Donnelly.
HOW I BECAME A PR DIRECTOR
Give a brief outline of your career to date.
After graduating, I started working for an international PR company in their Dublin office, before returning to head up their smaller Belfast satellite office four years later. I then joined Morrow Communications in 1999 as an account director and became a company director in 2005.
What was your favourite subject at school?
I’m fascinated as to how and why things happen so history was my favourite subject at school. I enjoyed weighing up evidence from different sources to make a case for something or to come to a particular conclusion.
Did you go on to further/higher education, if so what did you study and where?
I studied Communications, Advertising and Marketing (CAM) at the University of Ulster Jordanstown. We were guinea pigs for the new course which was also the first of its kind in Northern Ireland, so it was a very exciting time for all involved.
How did you get into your area of work?
I was always interested in media and current affairs – so I was looking for a career that would match that interest.
When I saw the new CAM degree in the UU prospectus, I was intrigued and went along to the Open Day to find out more. The range of subjects it covered and the balance of communications theory and practice attracted me and gave me a different perspective on the media. That choice set me on course for a career in communications.
Is this what you always wanted to do?
Admittedly, the interest in media and current affairs was strongest, and I thought a career in journalism beckoned.
Up until I read about the new degree course, I wasn’t entirely sure what PR and Communications was and what career choices there were in the industry. Within a few days on the CAM course I was hooked and knew this was the career path for me.
Were there any particular essential qualifications or experience needed?
While my degree was the first formal qualification for the industry in NI at the time, there were clearly a number of other routes into the industry. That equally applies today where the Morrow Communications team is made up of people from a wide range of backgrounds – and with a variety of qualifications.
In my experience, the right aptitudes and attitude is far more important than any particular degree subject in carving out a successful career in communications.
Are there alternative routes into the job?
Absolutely – you only have to look at the range of people in my team. Some have come from the industry degree route like I did, while others have come from journalism, arts, law and even agricultural backgrounds.
There are a range of transferable skills that are important to succeed in the industry.
What are the main personal skills your job requires?
To be good in the communications industry it goes without saying that you need to be a good communicator – in both the written and spoken word.
In a busy consultancy environment you also need to be analytical, think strategically and get under the skin of your clients to understand them and their business. You also need to be creative, persuasive and tenacious. Throw in the requirement to be passionate, hardworking and a good juggler, then you have the makings of a good communications consultant.
What does a typical day entail?
One of the main attractions of the job is the very fact that there is nothing close to a typical day! Every day is very different due to varied client base we have that operate in different business sectors and industries. The range of communications activities and tools we use also varies making each day diverse. With the close association PR has with the daily news agenda, your planned day can change very quickly in the space of a single phone call and you will either thrive or drown in that environment.
What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job?
The variety of the role is one of the best aspects of the job for me. The fact that we are increasingly at the top table advising senior decision makers about their communication needs and challenges also gives me satisfaction as it is a sign that good communication is seen to be critically important to an organisation’s success.
The most challenging aspect is the sheer busyness and pressures of the job where you often have to juggle a lot of activity at any one time.
How have you seen your industry change over the years?
I’m a great believer that the fundamentals of good communication have stayed the same, but of course some of the tools and how they are used have changed – most notably the development of digital and online communication challenges in recent years. Like a good tradesman it is important to know how best to use your tools and what each one does or doesn’t do, but you should never lose sight of the big picture and what your actual purpose is.
What advice would you give anyone looking to follow a similar career path?
You must be committed to the role, your employer and your clients. It is a job that is not for the faint hearted and it only works if you commit to it.
If you weren’t doing this what would you like to do?
I’ve often thought a travel writer must be one of the best jobs – being paid to travel the world and share your stories with people. It would also combine perfectly my interests in writing and exploring new things.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to yourself on your first day?
Listen and learn. I believe that listening and learning both from good practice and not so good practice is the only way to build a successful career.
Thankfully it is advice I gave myself and more importantly took. As a follow on from that always ask the ‘why?’ question – in this role you need to be inquisitive and understand the issues fully before you can add value through your advice.
Describe your ideal day off.
Family time is very precious to me and whenever time allows my family and I will most likely be found in the hills, pubs and waves of Donegal, where we have a mobile home near the beautiful Marble Hill beach.
And finally, what’s the key to any successful job search?
Having interviewed quite a lot of people over the years, the best advice would be to have fully researched the company and role you are applying for… and that goes beyond the first few pages of the company website.
You can very easily spot those who are genuinely keen on the role and the company and who have bothered to do their research to prove it.