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Image / Agenda / Business

My Career: Sustainably-focused publicist Fiona Donnellan


By Sarah Finnan
20th Jun 2024
My Career: Sustainably-focused publicist Fiona Donnellan

Having worked in media, hospitality and now PR, Fiona Donnellan has worn many hats over the course of her career. Leaving her full-time job in Dublin to launch her own PR agency, Sustainable PR, there have been many learnings along the way but with her company celebrating five years in business this month, there’s also lots to be proud of.

Did you always want to be a publicist?
Not exactly, but it brings together all the things I love – chatting to people, writing and being creative. And every day is different.

In college, I studied…  Sports Science and Health at DCU right after school because I love sports and exercise but found I missed being creative. I moved to London for a time but then went on to study Journalism and Communications. I worked as a journalist briefly before I eventually moved into public relations when I worked for a PR agency in Dublin.

My most formative work experience was… I worked in fashion retail right after college in London and then moved back to Dublin and it was always so much fun, you meet the best people all trying to figure out their place in the world. Living and working in London and Dublin in your 20s should be a rite of passage. Some of my best pals are from that time in my life.

My first real job was… I worked in a café in my teens, then moved on to retail and eventually copywriting, content creation and now public relations.

The most invaluable thing I learned early on in my career was… learning on the job is key, you can go to college and learn so much theory but it’s all about applying that theory. You could be top of your class but working in PR is fast-paced so you have to keep up.

A common misconception about what I do is… my friends definitely think I’m constantly at events sipping on champagne and rubbing shoulders with influencers, but no, I’m usually behind the scenes making sure everyone else has champagne.

My main responsibility in work is to… get my clients featured on TV, on radio, on podcasts, in print and online, ensuring their story is being heard/seen/read by potential customers. It’s about getting their story out there.

Do you have a career mentor or someone you look up to/seek advice from? When I worked in the agency in Dublin, I worked with amazing colleagues and I’ve stayed in touch with them so it’s nice to check in with them from time to time. There is also a strong network of businesswomen in Sligo who are always really supportive – Jane from Shells Cafe in Strandhill was kind to me when I started out, along with Aoife from Bua Marketing. It’s all about making these lovely connections with like-minded people. My sister is a writer and works in marketing and my brother works as a journalist and in media so they’re also good to run things by, they get it.

The biggest risk I have taken in my career so far is… definitely leaving my cushy full-time job in Dublin, starting my own business and moving to Sligo with my boyfriend Mark. I didn’t know if it was going to work, I knew I wanted to stay working in PR but knew I wanted to work with brands that cared about the planet. Five years ago it may have seemed a bit niche but thankfully sustainability is on the agenda now and in business plans.

I wake at… 6:15am, I’m one of those annoying early risers.

The first thing I do every morning is…I exercise first thing to get it out of the way, if I leave it for later in the day, I know I won’t do it. I also have a gorgeous dog who likes to go out first thing.

My morning routine is… up and out with the dog and then to the gym or for a run.

I can’t go to work without… my phone. If I’m not responding to emails or answering calls, I’m listening to podcasts.

I travel to work by… I work from home, but if I have client meetings in Dublin, I love getting the train from Sligo. It’s the best way to get around and you can work and chill on the train.

On an average workday I… I love structure so I try to keep the same schedule most days. I usually do a quick run through the news to see if any of my clients are featured or if any interesting topics are trending. Reply to emails, post on social and get to work on press releases and pitching for my clients. And once a month, it’s reporting and administration. Gross.

I start my working day at… 8:30am/9am. I work best in the morning.

The first thing I do at work is… catch up on the news, whether that’s the papers, news sites or podcasts.

I break for lunch at… around 12pm/12:30pm. If I’m at home, I whip up something simple. If I’m out and about, I love sushi or burritos – hook Boojum to my veins!

The most useful business tool I use every day is… Canva, without a doubt. It’s so good for a PR agency to have just for day-to-day design tasks.

I save time by… I love handy admin tools, anything that makes my job easier so if there’s an app for that you can bet I have it, whether it’s for accounting or simple tasks. I like to work smarter, not harder.

I rarely get through my working day without… a cuppa. I love tea.

The best part of my day is… when I break for lunch because I also take time to walk my dog. He’s the best. It’s so helpful to get out and clear the head. It often helps me reset and come up with good ideas when I get fresh air. He forces me to get out and about and even if I’m stressing about something. he instantly lifts my mood. Every office should have one!

The most challenging part of my day is… I’d love to take on more work sometimes but I also want to have enough time for all my clients and to do really impressive and impactful work so it’s all about finding that balance. That can be difficult sometimes.

I know it’s been a good day if… my clients are happy and I’m happy.

I usually end my day at…I tend to finish up around 4-5pm.

I switch off from work by… I love to gym, swim, cycle, run, surf and walk my dog.

Before I go to bed, I’ll… watch some mindless TV or read a book to relax and switch off.

I often prepare for tomorrow by… I always lay out my clothes for the next day and pack a gym bag so I’m ready to go.

After a long work week, I destress by… Fridays are for chill time, this could be pizza at the pub, gardening, a dip and a sauna or takeaway and a movie.

The accomplishment I’m most proud of is… in business, my PR agency, Sustainable PR, is five years old this month and I’m chuffed I’ve gotten this far, survived a pandemic and am thriving. In life, I’ve completed two marathons, two half Ironman and a couple of other sporting events that I’m proud of.

If you want to get into my line of work, my advice is to… there are loads of options to study public relations or marketing in college, but first I’d try and do some work experience in an agency if possible just to get a feel for it. I’ve had students and recent graduates reach out to me about work and work experiences and sometimes their pitch is so impressive I’m like I have to give this person a shot. So I would say put yourself out there and chase down opportunities rather than waiting around for something to happen. I didn’t get into PR straight out of college, so there are lots of paths to follow.

I’ve just finished working on… a great campaign with Street Feast which is a national weekend of celebrations and street parties in communities all across the country. I worked with them to create buzz and excitement about the event with TV appearances, podcast and radio segments, features in print and online publications and influencers activity. It was a huge success and they’re a great bunch of people to work with. Next up is the wonderful Cairde Sligo Arts Festival in July. I’m busy with that campaign now, so exciting times ahead.

Photography by Abe Neihum/ANPM Studios