Guest Interview: Communicating for the NI Economy

Last year I ran a very successful section of blog posts with guest interviews on local PRs and Communicators. (You can read them here in the “Local Profiles” category). I was so grateful they all agreed to take part for me, a virtually unknown blogger at the time, and allow me the opportunity to learn from their experiences and share with my readers.

Feedback this year from students and professionals alike highlighted how useful it would be to show a breadth of careers in this industry, many of which are in-house as opposed to the agency owners I mostly interviewed last year.

So you asked, my loyal readers, and I have delivered! With some very exciting and well respected local in-house communications professionals.

First up, we have Chris Morrow, Communications and Policy Manager for the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Working for businesses and the economy was never an easy task, communicating often complicated information to the public as well as lobbying on a range of issues, and that has never been more true than during the Recession years. So how did Chris find his career path and where is it taking him?

Read on to find out more:

How did you get where you are today?

I graduated with a BSc in Politics with Public Relations and having enjoyed the PR element of the degree, I then returned to the University of Ulster to do an MSc in Communications, Advertising and Public Relations – mainly to focus on PR.

I then worked part time for MF Communication in Belfast in order to gain PR experience (6 months) before the NI Chamber role which was advertised initially for 6 months through the DEL INTRO Graduate Programme. The role was then made permanent and I’ve been there for nearly 5 years.

What three tips would you offer someone just starting out in the industry?

  1. Gain as much work experience as possible – It is hard to get a placement but persistence is key – non paid shows a good dedication to the industry
  2. Illustrate some sort of passion towards the PR field outside of studies
  3. A little flexibility – If going for a PR role then illustrate you can also do some generic communications activity too – updating website, assisting with internal documents etc. If you haven’t got experience in some elements then be honest – show your willingness to take additional training if required in order to learn.

What’s a typical week like in your role?

NI Chamber is a well-known network for business with a membership of 1,200 businesses representing over 100,000 employees. It includes corporates, SMEs and micro businesses with membership coming across all sectors of business from manufacturing to agri-foods, services to high-tech and the professions. The organisation’s primary role is to help businesses grow locally and internationally and it provides a number of platforms to help businesses do this.

NI Chamber has a team of 15 with my role primarily being in Communications however this also includes Policy activity as the two go hand-in-hand with NI Chamber. As well as helping grow NI Chamber’s profile,  I also work closely with members to help them do the same. NI Chamber also runs over 60 events per year so the variety is excellent. One moment you could be at a networking event (meeting a lot of great people), or writing a press release/attending a photo-call or up at Stormont meeting with Ministers. It’s not all office based which is great.

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

Digital was starting to emerge in a big way when I first started with NI Chamber but it develops rapidly. The latest thing seems to be infographics and different types of Twitter graphics for example. What you would see as marketing is now coming into PR in an even bigger way.

Online news is also growing steadily with a few more sources starting to occur on top of the main print forms who have an online presence. Reading a newspaper on an iPad is something I do regularly. These are all changes for the better.

Budget cuts will always be an issue however there is still a good rise in the number of local PR companies starting up each year which must be a good sign.

There are also too many graduates in the industry compared to the amount of jobs that come up in the course of a year. Although this is great for the industry and universities (by making competition higher), it means a lot of graduates spend a lot of time looking for a PR/Communications role.

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

Something that illustrates their dedication (and passion) for the role – e.g. voluntary work experience, or any of the tips raised above for people starting out!

What is your proudest moment to date?

I was delighted to win a ‘Communications Professional of the Year’ award at the 2014 awards and also be a finalist in the CIPR UK Excellence ‘Outstanding Young Communicator’ category this year.  Both were UK wide which was great.

NI Chamber has also been shortlisted for two CIPR PRide Awards this year (up against Northern Ireland’s top agencies) so this is, in my opinion, a great achievement for us. We have built up our profile and are recognised as a company with great PR campaigns and activities and we are delighted to be receiving recognition for these. We have never entered before.”


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

Just the usual – I’m a big movie lover and concert goer and a Manchester United fan.  I have also just joined the Board of Governors of Bloomfield Collegiate School.  My wife and I are expecting our first child to arrive later this month which will keep me busy.

Follow Chris on Twitter for great news, links  and events on all things NI-commerce @NIChamber and @ChrisMorrowWork

And as a mother myself I wish him all the very best with the new arrival!