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.
Hazel Dobbyn is Founder and Owner of Narrate PR, a boutique public relations consultancy delivering a range of communications and PR services. Hazel graduated from her degree in Politics and Philosophy at UCD in 1999 and went on to complete a postgraduate diploma in Public Relations from the Fitzwilliam Institute of Public Relations. Hazel began her career as an Account Executive at Watermarque Marketing in 2001 and moved to Drury as an Account Manager three years later. In 2004, Hazel became PR & Communications Manager at Inland Fisheries Ireland and in 2008, she was appointed as Head of Communications at Bord Iascaigh Mhara. In February 2019, Hazel founded Narrate PR, a PR company that combines a passion for storytelling with a drive for results.
Name the one work tool that you couldn’t live without.
It’s an obvious one I know, but it has to be my iPhone.
What communications innovation do you wish you had come up with?
Social media, particularly Twitter and Instagram. It’s a vital tool for PR in terms of audience reach and relationship building with customers and media.
What is the best book you have read in the past year?
The one that instantly comes to mind is ‘Ruth and Pen’ by Emilie Pine. It draws you in through strong female characters and weaves in pertinent issues to the story including fertility, disability and relationships. I was particularly impressed with the author’s depiction of a 16-year-old autistic girl as the main character and how well researched the character was.
Why did you decide to follow a career in PR?
I have always had an interest in current affairs and journalism. I guess I was that annoying child that questioned everything. I clearly remember talking about my admiration for the late Veronica Guerin in my Irish oral exam for my Leaving Cert. Despite a subsequent degree in Politics from UCD, I never pursued journalism in the end. After an internship in a marketing company, I realised PR was the discipline I enjoyed the most and 20 years later, I am still enjoying it.
What do you know now that you wish you knew at the start of your career?
It’s ok to make mistakes. As long as you take the time to learn from them.
What are the three biggest PR challenges that you face?
Like all business owners, the biggest challenge is time. The very nature of PR work is time intensive. From drafting materials to meeting, training and advising clients to networking – it all takes time which of course, has to be balanced against the administrative work it takes to run a business.
Helping prospective or new clients to understand what PR is (and what it isn’t) and the importance of preparation and resourcing to get the maximum return.
Staying ahead of a constantly changing media industry.
Tell us about a campaign or piece of work that you’ve worked on that you are proud of.
I am a long time working in PR so it’s impossible to only pick one. However, the ones that I am most proud of are the ones that focused on societal change.
As Head of Communications for Bord Iascaigh Mhara, I managed and implemented the first ever national advertising and Public Relations campaign for the agency entitled ‘Live to Tell The Tale’. The campaign creative was developed by DDFH&B (as they were then) to drive more fishermen to complete mandatory BIM safety training and wear their personal flotation device/lifejacket at all times when at sea. The hard-hitting campaign featured the stories of two fishermen who had survived near fatal accidents at sea. The campaign won numerous awards including an ADFX award and a Marine Industry Safety award.
Since I established Narrate PR three years ago, I am most proud of the PR campaign ‘Get Social Dublin, Invest in your Community’, developed and implemented in collaboration with Vivienne Gleeson Communications on behalf of Social Enterprise Dublin. The extensive campaign created awareness as to what social enterprise is and encouraged the public and the wider business community to invest their time and money. This was achieved by telling the stories of inspirational social entrepreneurs who use their profits to address societal challenges including long term unemployment, homelessness, disability, environmental issues and mental health.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in their career in PR?
Speak up. When you are starting out, you can doubt your own views and ideas in front of more experienced colleagues. It’s important to value your skills, abilities and contribute to the team in order to get ahead. This also applies if you decide to start your own business. Charge appropriately for your expertise and agree a letter of engagement with clients so everyone is clear on deliverables from the start. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to other business owners for advice and support.
What are the three biggest lessons that you have learned throughout your career?
Stop comparing yourself to others. Focus on what you do well instead of trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none.
Give your time and support to interns, fellow PR consultants and colleagues. There is plenty of work for us all and collaborating is a great way to boost creativity and deliver added value.
Trust your gut. Sometimes you are unsure of a new business proposal and if so, don’t be afraid to turn it down. You have to be happy that both the client and the proposal fit with your approach and values.
Name three principles that you hold dear when it comes to your PR work.
Honesty – in terms of my own approach with clients and whom I work with.
Accuracy – attention to detail and accuracy are important in PR. What you syndicate to media must be consistent and a truthful representation of the business/product.
Respect/Kindness – PR is a busy and pressurised environment. It’s important to take the time to understand and respect the perspective of clients, journalists, collaborators and suppliers.
If you could make one lasting change in the PR industry, what would it be?
To improve the reputation of the PR industry and ensure it is included in the early stages of strategic business planning. I think there remains a certain level of misunderstanding as to the long-term value of PR. It is sometimes considered too late in the planning process or over too short a period. However, I think this view is changing as businesses see for themselves how effective PR is at increasing reach and customer loyalty. There is certainly scope to create further awareness for the value of PR. I will continue to do what I can to build a positive reputation for PR.
What are your top three media relations tips?
Take the time to pitch effectively. Contact relevant journalists individually that you know have an interest in a particular area and pitch an angle/interviewee that will fit with their publication/outlet.
Make sure your client is prepared (do they require media training, do they have a bank of high resolution imagery, an agreed social media strategy, a website that is consistent with the agreed PR messaging, branding etc).
A picture paints a thousand words. Work with a really good press photographer to bring your campaign to life and secure coverage.
What do you love most about working in PR?
It has to be storytelling, which is at the very heart of PR. No two days are the same which keeps it interesting. You can be working on a communications strategy for a corporate client one week and developing a creative campaign for a new product range the next. It is time intensive and when it comes to media relations, the pressure is on. However, it is always worth it when you see your client in the paper or hear them on the radio. The buzz of landing coverage for a client never gets old.
Who in the media do you most admire and why?
There are many. I especially like reading Miriam Lord’s columns in the Irish Times. To capture current affairs in such a colourful and entertaining way is an exceptional skill. Another journalist I admire for her calm, collected and thorough reporting is Katie Hannon.
Did you have a mentor? Who were they? And what was the most important thing they taught you?
My greatest mentor would have to be my late Dad. As Chief Pilot and Operations Manager for Aer Lingus and an aviation consultant post-retirement, he knew a thing or two about people management and was always there to offer no-nonsense business advice. I like to think I adopted his strong work ethic and his sense of fairness. He taught me to follow through on promises and to do every job, big or small, to the best of my ability.
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