Welcome to my blog series "10 Questions With". It consists of weekly interviews with practitioners from the PR, Marketing and Advertising industry. My goal is to talk to experts, who have interesting opinions and can give valuable advice to young people, who are pursuing careers in those sectors.
Today's interview is with Jo O'Connell, PR Consultant and Director at Jelly Rock PR & Marketing.
Q1: What was your first ever job?
Helping to run the village newsagents, aged 15, on a Saturday and Sunday for an alcoholic couple. I learned how to run (or how not to run) a business, plus I loved chatting to all the customers – of all ages and types.
Q2: How did you fall into PR?
At school there was a computer programme that asked you questions and then gave you a career option at the end of it. I loved answering the questions over and over and always got the same answer – journalist. I was very close to applying for a degree in journalism. Then, after researching more, I found that PR could pay more and offer transferable skills. I’m kind of sorry to say that, with the current climate in the industry, I made the right choice. Journalism is in steep decline and more reliant on PR. That’s great for me and my colleagues, but bad for the news industry. The journalists I know are extremely hard-working people but the quality and essential nature of their work is no long valued like it used to be.
Q3: Biggest career achievement in your opinion?
It was very early on in my career and was when I managed to secure a uni placement in Sydney, Australia. I spent long evenings in the uni computer centre sending emails and CVs. I eventually got a ten-month placement at Weber Shandwick, one of the world’s top PR agencies. Travelling out there on my own, via a few days battling jet lag in Hong Kong, was daunting but great fun. It set me up with a wanderlust addiction for life and certainly shaped me. I worked on some great campaigns in tech PR such as Palm (now defunct technology – you’ll have to Google it!), Acer and the global launch of Sony PlayStation. I then travelled through the East Coast of Australia, and then onto Malaysia and Thailand on my way back. There were many hair-raising experiences being a young solo traveller. I got hooked on SCUBA diving which later led me to becoming a diving instructor, working in Thailand and the Philippines.
Q4: What is the most exciting thing about your job?
Each and every one of my clients are inspirational. I love hearing their backstories, their business ideas and seeing the different ways they grow their businesses. At JellyRock we haven’t carved out a niche and so our work is delightfully diverse. We work across a number of sectors and that keeps life interesting. Plus, we work with smaller businesses on tight budgets. We believe creativity thrives on a minimal budget and so make every pound counts to produce results.
Q5: What have you learned from any mistakes you’ve made in your career?
Several! Mainly putting up with awful bosses for too long. I would never put up with that crap now. But I learned the hard way and allowed some people to make my life a totally misery for far too long. It’s left me with some entertaining, shocking stories, but has made me learn what type of boss I want to be. There’s real freedom in running your own business and understanding what kind of leader you are.
Q6: What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a career in the PR industry?
Get as much work experience as possible. But get out there and build lots of relationships so you can get through the door and into the office. Work for businesses, charities, whatever helps you learn the trade. There’s a line between work experience and exploitation though – I don’t mean sell your soul for long unpaid work internships. And REALLY work on your CV and covering email. Sometimes, when someone sends me a CV it sings off the page; there’s a great tone to it and their passion is evident. I save those CVs for the future.
And get work published – whether that’s in a uni magazine, in print, creating videos, running your own blog site, your social media following or writing guest posts. As an employer I want tangible evidence that you’re better than everyone else.
Q7: What campaign or work have you most enjoyed being a part of?
In May 2018, JellyRock PR launched the Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum. Being able to launch museum is a rare and prestigious honour. There are three JellyRockers who work together; Caitlin manages all things social media, Catherine runs the local PR; and I pitch national PR. We all work seamlessly together, despite working remotely. It means we can take on larger projects but as we each work from home we remain much cheaper than agencies. Shire Hall is a modern, interactive museum, packed full of interesting stories that we’re enjoying sharing. We’ve also generated a huge amount of coverage in such a little time – nearly 80 pieces in just a couple of months.
Q8: What’s the most surprising thing you have learned about the PR industry since working within it?
How much London agencies can charge and get away with doing so little. I’d say 80% of our clients have tried the big, glam and expensive agencies that offer it all but actually deliver very little. It’s meant that clients come away burnt and poorer for it. They then come to us disheartened about PR but want to give it one last try. We then deliver them results that show them the power of good PR and they totally love it. It’s so fulfilling showing people that PR doesn’t have to cost that much, but can really boost business.
Q9: In your opinion, is having a PR degree still beneficial for getting into the industry?
Absolutely. A placement degree is essential. I still refer back to the basics I was taught at Bournemouth University; crisis management, chaos theory, stakeholder engagement and management etc. But it’s only when you spend time on the job, or self-publishing your work in some way, that you develop your PR career. Some of the PR students I’ve met in my time (Yana being one of them) totally stood out in their hunger, determination and passion for what they do.
Q10: And finally, what advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
It’s totally possible to ditch Impostor Syndrome.
Do what you love, learn what you can, work hard, follow your instincts and maintain balance in your life and you can shake off Impostor Syndrome by the time you’re thirty. It’s a wonderfully liberating feeling to know your subject inside out and be able to teach others about PR with sincerity and confidence.
You can connect with Jo @JellyRockPR. Thank you for the awesome answers!