Welcome to the 20th edition of #GirlBossMonday! Back when I started this series, I never thought I would get anywhere near 20 responses, let alone be still running this feature 20 weeks later, with more still to come. For this week’s #GirlBossMonday I’ve decided to bring it home, back to my roots. Speaking of roots, I accidentally dyed my hair a shade of pink over the weekend – let’s pretend it’s to celebrate the 20th #GirlBossMonday profile.
Grainne McGarvey is the Managing Director of Pulse PR, Belfast. In her interview, Grainne talks of the importance of education, and how PR is not as easy as everyone seems to think. Along with tips on how to start your own PR agency, Grainne tells us how she achieves the important work/life balance and what she sees as the biggest problem facing PR today.
The reason I conduct these interviews is to inspire you, my readers, and fellow PR students to be successful in your careers and business leaders of the future. I have asked the important questions to gain an insight of how these #GirlBosses made it to where they are today, and how we can emulate their successes.
Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.
OC: Hi Grainne! An easy question to start us off (I hope) – What is your full job title?
GMcG: Managing Director of Pulse PR.
Can you give me a background of your career and education? How did this lead you to be in your PR position today?
I studied a BA degree at Ulster University which focused on philosophy, history and politics. I then went on to do a MA in Media and Communication studies and for my final year dissertation I wrote about Leah Betts, a schoolgirl from Essex who died from a drug overdose. Her family released a picture of her hooked up to a monitor to the media to try and prevent others from doing the same. Although this is quite common now, it was very shocking at the time, and I guess it sparked my interest in how powerful the media can be in communicating a message.
After completing full time studying, I was offered a short placement with a PR company and the rest is history! Over the last 10 years I’ve worked with companies such as Tesco, Barclays, Applegreen, Tayto, O’Brien’s and Five Guys.
In between working with a range of agencies and media outlets, I also completed a CIM postgraduate diploma in Marketing and Diploma in Digital Marketing. I suppose that’s why I’m such a stickler for education as I think too many people think PR is an easy career you can just step into.
How and why did you start your business?
Setting up my own business was never really part of my plan and if I’m honest, I would say I sort of fell into it.
I took a job with a publishing company and realised it was not the path I wanted to take. I worked there for a few months and decided to take a chance and give it a go on my own. When I decided to leave it, I designed business cards, went to an all-day event, got two new clients and that was it!
Seven years later and the business is still going strong. I have diversified into writing for magazines, commentating on radio programmes and setting up my own blog, G Spots! All these things have helped me get a better understanding of the media landscape.
How did you go about securing your first clients?
I secured my first clients from attending the all-day event but it was not just that, I also had a lot of contacts, so I worked as a second pair of hands for other PR professionals until I built up more of my own clients.
Where are you based? Does your job involve a lot of travelling?
Catalyst Inc., formerly the Northern Ireland Science Park in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter.
I work with a lot of technology tenants in the Park so it works well. I manage my time very carefully so don’t travel too much unless I can charge. This might seem harsh, but in the beginning, I met a lot of ‘prospects’ for coffee, but it involved a lot of time with not much reward.
This year I’ve travelled to London, Dublin and Derry to organise client events, but other than that I am mostly tied to my desk.
What does your morning routine look like?
I’m a total early bird and am usually up around 6am. I’m guilty of checking social media and posting tweets or sharing articles before I leave.
I work in-house for a client a few days a week, but in between that I usually go in around 8am and finish early afternoon to go to the bank or sort out paperwork. It makes me laugh because many people think being self-employed means I do less work, but this is so not the case.
I usually have the laptop on for a few hours every evening to catch up on emails or planning for the next day. It’s very difficult to switch off as there’s always something that needs done.
What do you find most rewarding and challenging about your role in PR?
I’m proud that in such a crowded market I have still been able to survive and with most of the same clients I’ve had from the start. The way of the world is that there are less retainer clients, but I in fact enjoy working on projects over the years and seeing a client’s business grow.
It can be challenging if you put a lot of work into getting a story used in the press, everything is in place and set up, but the story gets bumped if a bigger news story comes in. It’s frustrating but very much the nature of the beast.
How do you find the right work/life balance?
I don’t think any self-employed person can really switch off! It’s not just the PR industry as I know many people in various sectors who run their own businesses and find it difficult.
I work seven days a week, even if it is just for an hour or two on a Sunday. I would rather deal with any issues as soon as they happen or I can’t relax! I also enjoy holidays and like to get a few days in the sun to boost the Vitamin D levels.
What do you wish more people understood about PR?
I wish people would realise that it’s not like advertising – there has to be a story to get something covered in the press. The launch of a new shampoo or opening of a beautician is not really a news story. That said, I do like trying to find what the news angle is, but it is not always guaranteed.
This is one of the reasons why I only really take on projects I believe are actually going to achieve coverage, as it makes life so much easier.
I also think people dismiss PR as easy when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a competitive industry, and a good professional needs to be aware and confident with lots of different on/offline publications, have good contacts, and always be thinking about new ideas for clients.
If you were to hire someone for a PR role, what skills and qualities would your ideal candidate have?
They would need to have good press contacts, be organised and don’t promise anything they can’t deliver on. I have a lot of friends who are journalists and their biggest gripe is PR people not getting back to them when they say they will.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the PR industry today?
Everybody thinks they can do PR if they are good at sending out a few tweets or posts on Instagram. Having good social media awareness is advantageous, but this can’t override having a good understanding of the basics.
Who has been your biggest role model in your career so far?
My mum has been an amazing support to me. She helped me when I started off and always reminds me I’m doing a good job. It can be difficult working on your own, but thankfully I have a lot of self-employed friends so we can compare notes and complain if there are any quiet times!
Can you give three tips for someone wanting to start their own PR agency?
Have a good client or two to get you started, put yourself out there and embrace opportunities, and use your network of experts – you can’t be good at everything!
What advice would you give to a student like myself that wants to emulate your success and make it in the PR industry?
Having a passion for the industry is a must, as is being able to show you have gained experience in events, blogging or photography. I know this can be tricky, as businesses don’t offer as many work experience places as they used to.
That’s not to say you give up; setting up your own blog (which you have done), volunteering as a comms person for a charity or attending free events with a camera and a notebook shows enthusiasm and determination – which are great PR traits.
Thank you, Grainne ♥
You can visit Pulse PR’s website at www.pulseprni.com
Follow on Grainne on Twitter : @grainnemcgarvey
Follow Pulse PR on Twitter : @PulsePRNI
Like Pulse PR on Facebook : @PulsePRNI