Guest Interview: Flying Solo with Grainne McGarvey

We’re getting through the Guest Interviews rightly! And I think you’ll agree, to approach so many people in the one industry, in a “village” like Northern Ireland, with the end result being a diverse and interesting collection of interviews, is pretty cool. I hope you’re all enjoying reading them as much as I am!

Today, we feature a woman I hear on the radio a lot and she always impresses (even though they never do her justice by introducing her as a “fashionista” when she is so much more!) Grainne McGarvey, a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, set up her agency Pulse PR in 2010 after a career working with some of Northern Ireland’s largest brands. Using her media and marketing experience, she helps consumer and business-to-business companies with their online and offline PR and Marketing.

With a lot going on and a lot to say, sit back and enjoy…

Grainne McGarvey

How did you get where you are today?

After my Masters I completed the Premiere Programme, which I think is defunct now but it was a very well respected graduate training programme back in the day. My placement was with a PR company in Belfast and it gave me my first taste of the industry. I stayed there for a year and over the next six years I worked in agencies and got broad experience in PR, advertising and publishing. I was lucky to work with interesting clients such as Tesco, which helped me build up a wide range of media contacts as Tesco was involved in everything – consumer, business, agri, education, sport etc. When I decided to set up on my own it was surprisingly easy to get started – I completed Invest NI’s Go For It programme and that along with my own contacts meant I was able to sort out a website, logo, office, accountant etc. In my first week I went to the Down Royal ladies day armed with my new business cards and came back with two new clients. After that I knew I’d made the right decision.

Three years on and the business is going from strength to strength. I work with a lot of clients in the technology sector and it’s great to learn about what’s going on in that space. I also keep myself busy writing a column for Belfast Telegraph’s Business Month magazine, am a regular commentator on BBC Radio Ulster and present consumer and tourism videos – the most recent one was for NITB on Derry’s City of Culture year. In the beginning I took anything and everything, but now I can be a bit choosier and I only take something on that I believe is going to work. I have turned down work because I don’t agree with the product or company – I guess this is one of the positives about being my own boss.

What three tips would you offer someone just starting out?

1. Make contacts – the PR industry is very contacts driven, so the more you have the easier it is. I’m not advocating stalking, but interacting online or introducing yourself at events is a good way to get started.

2. Get experience – The ideal experience is a placement with a company, but I agree this isn’t always possible. I recommend getting writing experience – write stories or blogs for example and try and get them published even online. It’s good to build up a bank of articles to show an employer that you are serious about working in the industry.

3. Don’t give up – this is both before you get your dream job and also when you are in it. If I really want something I find a way to make it work. I don’t mean by being a pest, but I tweak and change to find a way of getting the end result.

What’s a typical week like in your role?

I’m a morning person so set the alarm early and get into work before the rush. I work out of the NI Science Park so head there first thing and answer emails – you’d be surprised how much you can get done in the time before 9am. Last week I set up a picture with a skeleton to promote a client called Uni Baggage – not a medical company but an online courier company that transports student belongings and the strangest thing it has transported was a skeleton for a biology student. I don’t do pictures every week but I love them when I do – business journalists want more than just a line up of people in suits. I spend most of my week on the laptop – writing plans, proposals, press releases, and in between all that I call or meet up with journalists to get my stories placed. I try and attend at least one networking event a week – there are so many so I need to be focused.

What has changed in for the better and worse since you started in the industry?

There is a lot more competition now for jobs which wasn’t there when I started almost 10 years ago. Back then it might have been easier to get jobs based on who, rather than what you know. I also think that social media has changed the industry– a client’s reputation can be ruined by a stupid comment online, as can a candidate’s employment chances. I always check a person out online when they contact me and some of the negative things I see online does not fit will what I read in their CV.

If you were hiring for an entry-level position, what would make a candidate stand out?

I find it easier to tell you what won’t make them stand out – spelling mistakes on CVs, not finding out my name when contacting me and emails telling me what I can do for them, rather than what they can do for me. The best application I received was from a girl that sent in a DVD of her skills – she acted them out and explained how she will make my life easier. I loved it so much and did her PR so to speak by telling all my business colleagues about her obvious ability to see if they could employ her. Creative, interesting people like that are hard to come by and will go far in life. I think PR professionals get a bad reputation as the industry is often perceived as light and fluffy, so I’m a stickler for qualifications and relevant experience to show that the person has earned their stripes.

What is your proudest moment to date?

I am proud that I can honestly say that I’ve no regrets in my life. I lived my twenties to the full – worked abroad, travelled, had fun and combined it with finishing a Hons Degree, Masters and Postgraduate Diploma. I set up a company in probably the worst economic climate for many years, so I’m proud that so far I’ve been able to make it work.

When you switch off (if you switch off!) what do you do with your own time?

I can’t switch off until I know everything is finished – even if that means working all night to get something done. It puts me under extreme pressure, but I have always been this way so it is hard to change now. My brain is always ticking over with ideas and wanting to know what’s going on in the world so I never really switch off. I guess that’s not a bad thing and many self-employed people are the same. That said, I always make time to out with my friends, try new restaurants, bars etc and heaven help anyone that gets in the way of my annual holiday – this is the time I need to get some sun and recharge my batteries.

You can follow Grainne on Twitter @pulseprni and keep up with not only all the glamorous happenings, but the serious business and friendly personal bits too!