Lisa McDonald: 'Being in the office until 10pm is not the mark of someone doing a great job'

Sinead Brady speaks to Lisa McDonald of Storyful about switching off, speaking up and remaining flexible. 

On a typical day

I’m up at about six. I make breakfast for the kids, then lunches and say goodbye. I’m at my desk at around 8/8.30am and start checking in on e-mails that came in overnight.

On switching off 

This was one of my first challenges at Storyful, as it’s literally on 24/7. At the start I wondered if I had to always be on too. But it’s not possible. So, people have my phone number and they know in the case of an emergency they can call me.

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On answering emails in down time

I try to stop myself. But truthfully that’s what my best self would look like. It’s something I’m conscious of and that I have to work on. If I respond in my time off, my team may think the same is expected of them.

I’m a firm believer that being in the office until 10 o’clock at night is not the mark of someone doing a great job. It’s not how you should value someone’s contribution to an organisation.

On ambition

Speak up about your ambition. As you travel upwards, communicate your ambition and let people know what you want so that they can help you.

On tough career decisions

I go towards what I think is the biggest challenge and where I see the most personal and career progression opportunities. When making the decision to move to Storyful from PSG, I was afraid. I loved my job and the people I worked with. I had progressed from an administrator to an executive, then to manager and on to an account director. 15 years later I was on the Board of Slattery Communications. I had many of my ‘big life moments’ there - getting married, having my children and my father passing away.

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But I felt it was a ’now or never’ moment for me.

One of the pushes was for my three girls - for them to think that they could do this someday. When I was fifteen or sixteen I never dreamed that I would work in a global company owned by News Corp.

They don’t understand it now, they’re too young, but hopefully in years to come they’ll go ‘Wow, it was great that Mum was able to do that.’

On Courage or confidence - which comes first?

Courage - when I started in Storyful I understood it would be a big learning curve. I had to try to not let it overwhelm me. It took me six months to get really confident about my knowledge of the business.

You need the courage that you’ll get there - know what you don’t know and fill in the gaps. Then confidence follows.

On working in a tech company with an Arts Degree

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Truthfully, it made me nervous and I brought it up during the interview process with Storyful. I was assured it wasn’t an issue.

I studied French and sociology in Trinity. I know it might seem difficult to jump from French existentialism to marketing campaigns and then into tech. But college taught me the critical analysis and creative thinking skills I needed in Slattery PR and now in Storyful.

Our product teams practice AGILE methodology that involves sprint development cycles. Initially it was intimidating walking into meetings with expert groups because I knew nothing. Now I know all the terminology and I make valuable contributions. That didn’t happen overnight I had to work at that.

On parenting & working life blend

I have three young children and a husband. I can’t be at home with the girls and Paddy all the time and I can’t expect that of myself. In making the move from PSG, where I spent 15 years, to Storyful, I knew the family dynamic would change. I was able to work 8 - 5ish in PSG and had limited travel requirements. Joining Storyful I knew I would have to travel frequently to New York and that would mean being away from home a lot more. Both Paddy and I had to be ok with that. I try not to feel guilty about being away from home - that wouldn’t help anyone.

On the ‘juggle’

It’s difficult and for the past few years it’s been a juggle. Paddy and I have to work as a team. He is just as capable of doing pick-ups, drop-offs, doctor visits and all the other things that need to be done.

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On workplace flexibility

I wouldn’t be able to do this job without flexibility. If you operate in a really rigid way, then someone will break. For instance, today I have to leave early to bring my daughter to the doctor. That means I have to push some things until tomorrow and delegate other things downwards. So, really workplace flexibility is the key thing. But the next time it might be my husband, and I stay at work- we share the load.

We have to open the conversation around flexibility for parents in the workplace, not just mothers. Flexibility is key for men and women.

Dads are just as capable as Mums and they want to be active in their children’s lives. They can and want to bring kids to the doctor, go and see the Christmas play, do drops-offs and pick-ups. Flexibility means allowing this to happen for men and women.

On ‘having it all’

I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to ‘have it all’. You’re going to have shifting priorities every day. You just have to be flexible. If you put too much pressure on yourself to do it all, something will give or somebody will crack. You can have a lot of most things but there are always sacrifices.

On sacrifices

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I don’t have much time to myself. I love to read but other than that free time is spent with the girls. I don’t get time to do some of the things that I would like to do but I am ok with that. It’s just for this part of life and it will change.

What’s your favourite pick me up?

A cup of coffee.

What’s your favourite quote?

‘When they go low, we go high.’ - Michelle Obama.

A businessperson you admire in Ireland and why.

Aoibheann O’Brien and Iseult Ward, the founders of FoodCloud.

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Do you have a motto you live by?

Count your blessings.

Photograph: Lisa (secod left) with the PR team at The People of the Year Awards

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