Hard work and diligence takes you far but you need to create opportunities for yourself’ – Helen Carroll on Love Your Work
Women are making their mark in the world of business like never before. In every industry and at every level, we look to women who’ve made it their own as an example for us to do the same. For our series, entitled ‘Love Your Work‘, we ask women who have achieved stunning success in their field to tell us how they got there, and their advice on how we can join them.
Combining a love of the arts with business and PR is the dream for a lot of career-builders, and Helen Carroll, Head of Communications & Partnerships at Business to Arts, has built it up for herself. Business to Arts is a not-for-profit that forms partnerships between the businesses and artistic communities in Ireland in areas such as sponsorship, commissioning, brand development, training, leadership development, internal and external communications and events.
Helen’s day-to-day job is jam-packed, and no two days are the same. Here, we chat about priorities, challenges and how to communicate.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Both maths and music were my favourite subjects. I loved the challenge of problem-solving in maths and music was pure joy during the school day. I can still hum all the themes from Romeo & Juliet, one of the works we had for our Leaving Cert.
What was your first job, and what other jobs have you had since?
I had an incredible piano teacher, Gillian Smith at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, and she instilled a love of music in me. After I got my diploma, I started teaching from my parents living room when I was 16 (and still do occasionally).
I studied in Law in TCD but knew after my degree that my creative side was crying out so I did a Masters in Cultural Policy & Arts Management in UCD. That led me to my first role at the then-called ‘Grand Canal Theatre’, which was such an exciting time as the theatre had just opened and was finding its feet.
I spent some time in London working at IMG Artists, a classical music agency and then returned home to take up a position as Arts Administrator at Dance Theatre of Ireland. I returned to the Bord Gais Energy Theatre and worked as Senior Marketing & Press Manager for a number of years. Working on large-scale campaigns for some of the best Westend & Broadways shows, like Wicked and The Lion King was incredibly rewarding. Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake was a definite highlight. Through promotion, I took over as assistant manager, which gave me a greater insight into the production logistics, contracts and financial aspects of running one of the country’s largest commercial theatres.
I am currently Head of Communications & Partnerships at Business to Arts, a non-profit membership-based organisation that helps develop and create partnerships between corporates and cultural organisations. My role involves working on arts sponsorships, commissioning projects, staff engagement projects and creating bespoke events. Some project highlights include Women on Walls with RCSI and Accenture; the Irish Times Theatre Awards in association in TileStyle; Port Perspectives with Dublin Port Company and Creative Journeys with Dublin Airport.
What does your daily routine look like?
I am definitely guilty of the odd pressing of the snooze button in the morning but usually, I try to be up at 7am. I’ll grab a coffee on my way to work and I try to be in the office early to gather my thoughts before the day starts. I’m a list maker, so this gives me a chance to plan my day. We have over 300 Business to Arts members and affiliates, so most days I will have two to three meetings. The rest of my day could be spent overseeing Allianz Business to Arts Awards planning, writing up communication plans and media releases for projects or checking in on fundit.ie our crowdfunding website.
I’m just finished my first year on the part time EMBA in Trinity College Dublin so my free time includes lots of reading, assignments and project work. Where possible, I try to fit in a Pilates barre class after work and towards the end of the week, I’ll go for dinner and drinks with friends. I always read for 20 minutes before bed to try and relax before I fall asleep.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
I love the variety in my job, no two days are ever the same. This year is Business to Arts 30th anniversary, so we have been running a special series of events for our members, such as a tour of Arthur Cox’s new building and art collection on Earslfort Terrace and a panel discussion on Brexit and its effects on culture. We will have a world premiere of a specially commissioned piece by a high profile Irish composer in October, followed by a theatrical promenade inside the TileStyle showrooms in November. It is my job to make sure these events run smoothly, garner media attention and advocate for Business to Arts’ mission. I manage the annual Allianz Business to Arts Awards, which celebrate the creative innovative partnerships that are happening in Ireland between the corporate and cultural world. This is our flagship event and it is incredible to see the amazing projects that go on around the country and the legacies they are creating.
What’s your least favourite part?
Knowing I can’t secure partnerships for everyone, especially when there are so many incredible cultural organisations and artists doing amazing things out there. We run an Arts Affiliate programme for over 150 arts organisations in Ireland. This offers training in fundraising and marketing to help equip them with the skills needed to actively generate new revenue. I’d love to be able to find partnerships for them all.
What are the key skills you need to make it in your industry?
Communications and fundraising is all about connecting with people, be it media or potential funders. It is important to do your research, know your facts and be a good conversationalist. I often find people over-complicate things. When I meet our members, I want to know what is going on in their worlds and listening is key. This helps generate ideas that are relevant to their current work and strategies. Patience is also important; securing sponsorship on average takes 18-24 months and building relationships takes time. You have to be in it for the long run.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned for success in your career?
Believing in yourself even when you don’t think you have enough experience or the right skills. If you want something badly enough you should go for it. My parents always said ‘no matter what you do you should try your best’. Hard work and diligence takes you so far but you need to create opportunities for yourself –offer to do the talk, take a first stab at a proposal or grant application, proactively talk to your boss about your role and how you want to develop. I also think being kind and approachable goes a long way.
Not at the moment. I think life likes to throw you the odd curveball and at certain moments in time you make a decision that you believe is right. You learn something about yourself when you look back on those decisions. I’d like to believe things happen for a reason.
What do you wish you knew when you were starting your career?
That, even 10 years down the road, you still won’t have all the answers. I used to be slightly afraid to ask for help but once I realised that most people are eager to support you, I haven’t looked back. There are people I go to regularly now for advice and guidance and being able bounce ideas off them or having them give you a gentle nudge keeps you motivated.
What’s the number one piece of advice you would give to young people starting out who want to follow in your footsteps?
Always introduce yourself and have active conversations with new people you meet in a work setting. You never know where your paths might cross again. If you meet someone at a talk or conference be sure to follow up and check in on occasion. Networking is so important in my job and I am always trying to connect with people doing interesting work or people that might be interested in collaborations with Business to Arts. The first step is to be brave and just say hello. Most people will say hello back and just take it from there.
The 2018 Allianz Business to Arts Awards will take place on September 4th at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. For more information about the awards visit https://www.allianz.ie/communities/arts/