Founders / Interviews / PR & Communications

Balancing the Grind With Hannah O’Donnell, Founder & Managing Director of Straight Up PR

Hannah O’Donnell is the Founder & Managing Director of Straight Up PR, a full-service communications agency servicing the health, fitness and lifestyle industries in Australia and New Zealand.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I studied a Bachelor of Communications Majoring in PR and Marketing at Griffith University in Brisbane. Before this I completed a Diploma of Retail Management as I was working at David Jones and loved my interactions with people so thought this was a career path I wanted to go down.

I later realised that if I studied PR and Marketing I would be granted the opportunity to work with people and also do events, write creatively and be involved with the media landscape too – all a win-win for me. So, I set off to study my Bachelor of Communications.

Towards the end of my degree I applied for an internship at The Corporate Advantage which was later acquired by EURO RSCG and rebranded to Red Agency. This internship soon turned into full time work once I completed my degree.

I believe that in PR a great way to get into the industry and land yourself your first job is to apply for and start off with an internship. This allows you the opportunity to really prove yourself and worth, whilst also gain a real feel for the industry and job.

After a couple of years in Brisbane I felt I had got as far as I could in PR and the pull to move to Sydney to advance my career was strong.

It was here that I secured a role as an Account Manager for a PR agency and stayed for another two years before moving to another agency and so forth, until I was promoted to Account Director and again, hit the peak of my agency career and felt the need to start my own agency. A move I always thought would happen one day, and this day came!

I always wanted to start my own PR agency and after running other people’s agencies and leading the communications strategies for brands like Woolsworths, Moet Hennessy, Nestle, and Johnson & Johnson – I developed strong integrated communication experience, however it wasn’t fueling my passion for health and wellbeing.

I noticed a need for a PR agency focused in this area and not just a fashion agency doing a bit of health PR, but an agency that lived and breathed it. So in 2014 health and wellness PR agency, Straight Up PR was born. At the time health and wellness wasn’t as popular as what it is today, so it was a gap I realised before it really took off.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Every day is different. My office days are Mon, Tues, Thurs. I have my kids – Frankie who is 3 and Beau who is 1 on Weds and Fri. Although on the days with my kids I still work – just remotely.

In saying this, next year (in 2020) I will be moving to four days in the office as my son will be old enough to pick up another day in care – so Fridays will be my day with the kids.

I kick off my working days with brekky with the tribe and a green juice (and a side of emails over the phone to check if anything urgent needs to be actioned) then a Pilates or yoga class. I’m then ready to dive into meetings with the team, clients or prospective clients and contacts.

I have computer time and action emails, work on business forecasting, proposals, billings, team capacity and our own PR and marketing strategies. I love to work from cafes and be outdoors in nature – this is where some of my best ideas are formulated.

Then at 4pm it’s time to get home for kindy pickup or to meet the kids as their beautiful grandparents drop them back.

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3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

At Straight Up PR we are all about flexible work arrangements and remote working.

Let’s face it, some days your energy levels call for nature or the buzz of a café to get you through that writing task or inspire creative thinking – and we all very much listen to our bodies and do what we need to do to get our job done to the best of our ability.

The Straight Up PR culture exudes authenticity and prioritises the fostering of relationships and building of communities – the essence of what PR is all about.

It was important for me that we built a culture that felt like a family – supported and safe, a place to really be yourself and excel at your dreams. I’ve worked at other agencies where it hasn’t felt like this and I dreaded going to work, often feeling sick to the stomach and hating Sundays.

I didn’t want this for my team. We spend so much time at work it’s important that we don’t see it as a chore, and that we genuinely love Sundays!

I treat my team no differently to how I treat my family and friends – our relationships are built on mutual respect and care for one another. This doesn’t mean work standards slip – it’s the exact opposite actually.

I’ve noticed that the more solo responsibility I give to my team to really apply themselves and hold themselves accountable then I find that they thrive at their roles. I’m not into micro managing and believe that we are all adults so should be able to self-manage and ask for help when it’s needed.

I absolutely expect a certain level of work and dedication to their job, and my standards are high, but my team know this and because we have a good relationship they don’t want to let me or the team down and they want to do a good job for themselves too.

It’s also the little touches that make a difference too – I’m empathetic and actually care about how they feel and what’s going on in their lives – a lot of employees couldn’t care less, and I don’t get this.

I include them in my life outside of work – they come to my kid’s birthday parties and are known as their Aunties. I acknowledge their birthdays, special moments in their lives and we celebrate achievements both in and outside of work.

If they want to do a pilates or yoga class during work hours, they can. If they need a mental health day, they can take it. If they need to get their car serviced or hair done, they can do this too. I show my gratitude where I can and in return they do the same.

We refer to each other as family and I like that. It hasn’t been easy finding the right mix of staff to achieve this, as it really comes down to personality and attitude too – and I feel blessed to now be in a place that we have this.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I’m all about practicing what I preach – and believe in work life integration and think that when you work in PR you should be ‘on’ all the time, consuming media (traditional and non-traditional) and always finding it a joy to think of the next opportunity you’re going to secure your client.

With this mindset, I encourage my team to put their own health first, and even when life gets ‘full’ to keep up with their daily wellbeing practices.

I’ve seen first-hand how integrating your work and life results in a more productive and happy team, who produce outstanding work everyone is proud of.

5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?

  1. Making my health and wellbeing a priority – because if I’m thriving personally then professionally I’ll be showing up as my best self too.
  2. Getting clear about what truly lights me up and my passion – being health and wellness, then not swaying from this area of expertise.
  3. Not settling for doing things because that’s how they’ve always been done – challenging how things have been done, asking why, going with my gut and what feels right to me (and not the person before me).
  4. Being big on lists and actioning tasks – I love nothing more than a clean inbox, redflags and Trello (an iPhone list app).

6) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who could rattle off a list of great books, but in all honesty I’m not. I would like to read more. I think it’s been a New Year’s resolution for some time now, let’s try it again for 2020. So in answer to your question, no there aren’t any books that have helped me improve over the years.

When I first started out in my career the person who made the biggest impact on me was my manager at the agency I interned at (later securing a job there). I learnt a lot about the kind of leader and mentor I wanted to be.

I took from her that you can lead with kindness and that there doesn’t have to be a hierarchy structure which limits as a junior what we are able to do. It’s all about capabilities and if we feel we can do it, then we can.

Being thrown in is a great way to learn. Face your fears and feel the nerves, letting them push you out of your comfort zone and overcome any doubt. She believed in me and provided me with the opportunity to learn and grow. She always had my back and was my biggest cheerleader, and I am forever grateful for her kindness and leadership.

7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

  1. I have my green superfood SWIISH delish juice in the morning to give me all of the energy, vitamins and brain power I need.
  2. I do some form of movement so that I can move through the day with drive and determination.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

I love Jessica Alba and find her incredibly inspiring. She proves that work-life balance is not only possible but profitable too.

Mum to two kids, Honor and Haven, Jessica Alba has continuously proven that working mums can, and should, have it all. She became well known for her acting career, but she’s now even better known for her The Honest Company brand.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

If you want something, go out and get it! You have the power to make it happen.

For working Mums, I just want to share something. I believe that the key to success is bringing your whole self to business. For me, this has meant that I’ve been able to keep the business operating and growing over the past 3 years while I started (and finished) my family with two healthy children.

To do this, it was important that I continued to be my real and whole self, not hiding this phase of my life as a “threat” to business but embracing it. As a result, I developed deeper connections and trust with my clients and team.

I think that balance and flexibility can be mixed with high performance to deliver outstanding results.

I’m a business leader challenging the norms of what “entrepreneurialism represents” – success doesn’t mean giving your whole self to a business at the expense of losing your whole life, (like many entrepreneurs make out), it means being yourself in business so that you can have a fantastic life outside of business.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.