I finished business school at 23 years of age and I was ready for the world—equipped with a degree in marketing and agribusiness. I really wanted to make a dent in the world, but like most college graduates I wasn’t really sure just how I was going to do it.
My first job after college was as a junior in the marketing department of a shoe company. The company—Dubarry Shoe—was, and still is, an institution in my hometown of Ballinasloe in the west of Ireland. By day I was learning the ins and outs of the shoe industry, and by night I lived with my parents.
Nobody should willingly live with their parents just after college. I went from experiencing the world for four years, to being safely back under one roof with my parents. Your twenties should be a time of endless possibilities. A time when you are able to meet strangers in your own house—the exotic and interesting friends of your housemates. But I was home most nights drinking tea with my folks.
That winter I spent many long evenings crouched over the old 386 computer in our hardware store writing stories. I was desperate to get published. My ramblings were mostly fiction—streams of consciousness. They were part comedy, part observation. In truth, I wasn’t sure what they were, but they wanted to come out. They needed to come out. I even signed up for a creative writing course at my local university. I remember the class was made up of me, and a group of active retirees. I was undeterred—I just wanted to be published.
Looking back now, I can see that I had a very strong urge to work out my creativity, it needed a regular outlet and I was determined to find it. After a few months of writing and crafting my own stories, I decided it was time to change careers and become a journalist.
Why journalism? I convinced myself that every day would be different. I would be pursuing stories, chasing down angles and writing and talking to people. Instinctively it felt right.
I applied for a couple of news reporter jobs in local radio stations and a few courses. I got accepted on a postgraduate diploma in journalism in the Dublin Institute of Technology.
It was a wonderful feeling to walk into the classroom and realise that I was amongst like-minded people. I quickly immersed myself in journalism and began to learn my craft.
It was a revelation when I realised any student could use the college recording equipment for free—any time we wanted. I soon developed a relationship with Anna Livia—a local community radio station who would broadcast any news that I sent them.
Most days I would wait outside the college newspaper shop to get an early copy of the Irish Times and identify my interview target for the evening radio news.
My burgeoning new career was going great, but I had one nagging worry. I didn’t know how to articulate it, that was until one night at home in the local pub in Galway a friend asked me how my exciting journalism career in Dublin was going.
“How’s the journalism going?” he enquired.
“Fine, it’s going really well,” I answered.
“It must be really exciting,” he added.
“Exciting,” I paused. “What do you mean?” I probed.
“I mean it must be really exciting interviewing people and asking questions,” he said.
It was only in that moment that my nagging worry about my new career path crystalised in my mind. Interviewing people could be exciting, but it generally wasn’t. Wasn’t talking to people with a microphone supposed to be more interesting than this? I looked at my friend a little forlornly and explained it wasn’t as thrilling as it seemed.
“You see most people aren’t exciting, or interesting, they are just themselves. And truthfully when they are being themselves they can be frightfully dull. People often come for interviews very ill-prepared, and with nothing at all to say. Journalists have to sift through plenty of dull dross before we get close to the gold, the interesting stuff.”
Very soon after I entered the world of journalism I left it. Six months after finishing my post-graduate diploma my journalism career was over.
I had spent a few months working in the Irish edition of the Big Issues magazine as a news reporter before the publication got into financial difficulty, and all of the staff were let go. I hastily took a job in a farming magazine and knew on the first day that I hated it. Every day writing about cattle and sheep wasn’t my idea of excitement, and not why I left a business career behind me.
One wet December evening I was on the way back home on the 45 bus and my mobile phone rang. It was my journalism course director from the Dublin Institute of Technology. Would I be interested in working as a political press officer for the Progressive Democrats Party? A former student of the Institute was now Director of Communications for the party and was looking to recruit a junior for his team.
I learned that the largest doors open in the most fortuitous ways. My course director and I used to chat about politics all the time. He knew I was interested and I didn’t need to be asked twice. I’d spent too many days writing about sheep and cattle not to be excited.
Forty-eight hours later, I was in Government Buildings doing a screening interview, before meeting the country’s deputy prime minister for my final interview.
In just 15 months I had gone from a disenchanted marketing graduate to a member of the press team of a Government political party.
My official job title was Party Press Officer. My job was to prepare the politicians for the media. I had to make sure that I created positive media opportunities and that we maximised the opportunities that came our way.
Despite my title, I learned very quickly what my job was really about. I realised that I was responsible for making sure our politicians were prepared to meet the media and that they had things to say, things that engaged and excited people.
In short, I was in charge of interesting. I would sit to write a statement for a politician and I knew the more provocative the headline, the more likely we’d get a call from the media.
Then there was the quote or the ‘line’ in a speech or a statement that the media would obsess about. On more than one occasion I wrote a great statement with a memorable and snappy quote only to get called by a politician in a panic.
I vividly remember my first day on the job in January 1999. Dublin had a looming transport crisis. There weren’t enough taxies in the city. Socialising at the weekends meant long waits at taxi ranks or a cold walk home.
On my second day, the Prime Minister’s brother, also a member of parliament, called for no new licenses to be issued in a bid to protect the taxi driver’s monopoly in the city.
It was decided that he needed to be taken down a peg or two. That was my job—after all, I was in charge of interesting. Who would we get to do it? An upcoming politician was picked—a new city councillor.
I got drafted to take aim at the Prime Minister’s brother. I said he ‘wasn’t living in the real world’ and that his tax proposals were ‘totally and utterly useless.’ I put it on the fax machine and hit send. In a short time, the councillor called—excited that a number of radio stations had called him.
‘What will I say?’ he asked nervously.
“Just use the quotes in the statement, they will work,” I replied.
Moments later I took my pocket radio out of my bag, plugged in my headphones, and heard him deliver the lines—like he owned them, and I was hooked.
I realised then, and it has stayed with me every day since, that being interesting is a decision, a choice if you like. We can all decide to be interesting or to be in charge of interesting. We can all decide that we are going to be more interesting than our colleagues, our competitors, our peers. And as with all decisions, it takes time, effort and dedication, but it pays off.
Remember what I said to my friend all those years ago about how dull and disappointing most people are. I’ve realised you can use that to your advantage.
Imagine how you will stand out like an exotic bird in a room full of these people. How your story, your approach and your attitude will stand out from the crowd.
I practice this every day. On the days that I’m addressing a conference or meeting a new group, I will reach for the loudest shirt on the rack. I literally want to be a beacon of light and colour in that room. I want to be the interesting thing that people remember from the day. I also do it if I’m doing a radio interview. I ask myself ‘what is the most interesting thing I could say?”
How can you be interesting?
If you are in charge of marketing, communicating, or selling your organization—then you are in charge of interesting. Your first step is to accept this challenge, not to shirk it. Every year I meet and train hundreds of organisations and most of them shirk the responsibility. They accept the prevailing conditions and don’t challenge them. By accepting the challenge you will be taking your first step to being interesting, and standing out from the crowd.
Being interesting is so important to Japanese IT company Fujitsu that they have created a role called—Director of Foresight, which is held by the wonderfully named David Gentle. Can you imagine how David’s job title shapes his interactions with the media? The future is so important to Fujitsu that it’s what he is responsible for. I met him a few years ago and wanted to interview him for our podcast just because of his job title. It intrigued me.
With acceptance of the mantle that you are now in charge of interesting comes responsibility. It is now your job to ensure that your organisation is interesting. At every meeting when new ideas are being discussed, you are the one responsible for ensuring they are interesting.
You can do this by asking two simple questions:
Does this idea set us apart from our competitors, or does it make us more like them?
Will this idea identify a need in our target audience and excite it?
The more it sets you apart, while at the same time exciting a need in your target audience—then the more interesting it is.
Now that you’ve committed to becoming less boring, we want our PR software to help you get your story out into the world. Click here to see what we do, or call Gaye on (01) 254 1845.
Here at MediaHQ.com, we like to keep a keen eye on all the media with itchy feet. Hugh O’ Connell is our media on the move this week. Hugh has cleared out his desk at the Journal.ie and is soon to be heading over to the Sunday Business Post. Hugh has been the political editor
The Mansion House in Dublin was host to an International TV and Tech event today called MediaCon 2015. The main focus at todays event was “the future of Irish television,” according to Stephen McCormack, Co-founder of MediaCon. Original founder of the event, Lesley O’Connor, is already well known for being the former executive producer of
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