Interview Spotlight With Islay O’Hara

Islay O’Hara is an award-winning chartered public relations consultant with over 25 years’ experience working with national and international companies, charities, SMEs and entrepreneurs, helping them craft their messages and tell their stories in ways that cut through the noise, reach and resonate with their target customers. She now runs a consultancy that specialises in helping business owners build visibility, influence and trust in their marketplace by building a professional, credible and authentic personal brand both on and offline. 

Thank you for interviewing with us today, can you introduce yourself to us?

I’m Islay, I’m a chartered public relations consultant based in Kent, specialising in PR and personal branding for successful business owners who want to feel more comfortable promoting themselves, building a more visible public profile and harnessing the opportunities this brings. 

When not working, I am training to become a black belt in Choi Kwang Do alongside my daughter, catching up with my son when he comes home from university. I love travelling, taking long walks with my husband and friends and enjoy eating out.  

Can you take us through your journey to where you are now?

My first job after graduating was working for Dillon’s Bookstore. But it didn’t take me long to realise that the promotional events, media relations and community engagement elements of my job were what I enjoyed best. When an opportunity to work at a local public relations agency came along I grabbed it with both hands and began my career in pharmaceutical PR.

Over the years, I worked my way up to client services director with Huntsworth Health. As well as learning the value of strategic communication, I also discovered that project and relationship management, writing, research, and consumer insight and behaviour analysis skills were invaluable. I benefited from working with some great clients, including Pfizer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Sanofi and many others. 

After 12 years of specialising in pharmaceutical PR, I wanted a change and moved into charity PR. My next two roles allowed me to broaden my skills further, including fundraising, bid-writing, volunteer management, sales and Government lobbying. I expanded my experience at board level by becoming a trustee for two local charities, firstly a children’s centre and then a local food bank. I relished the responsibility for governance, strategic growth planning and risk management, and valued the opportunity to do something positive for my local community.

In 2017, I became an independent consultant, to share my skills and experience with entrepreneurs, and specialise in personal PR and branding.  Every conversation is an opportunity. I’m on a mission to help business owners learn the skill of effectively communicating ‘human to human’, conveying their value and purpose, and the difference they make to create opportunities, to build effective partnerships and collaborations, and attract the clients they are excited to work with.

Since starting, have you made any changes to your business model?

I am constantly refining my systems and processes to make them more efficient. I used to sell time for money, which meant that I wasn’t truly valuing my expertise and experience. I am developing the partnership approach I have to working with clients, where we work together to achieve results, and I inspire and equip them to achieve results and learn to enjoy doing their own PR 

Have you ever had a mentor? If so how has this benefitted you either personally or professionally?

Whilst I haven’t had a formal mentor, I have worked, and been friends with, several individuals who have inspired me, challenged me and opened my eyes to what’s possible. People I have collaborated with, and worked with on specific projects, and as a trustee have brought different perspectives, approaches and ways of working.  Working with others makes us stronger in many cases. 

What outlets do use for marketing?

I love networking, getting out meeting people and hearing about their business journeys. I enjoy public speaking and talking about PR and personal branding, demystifying many of the misconceptions surrounding PR. Instagram and LinkedIn are my main social media platforms.  

What or Who has inspired you most recently?

Dr Janine Haywood, Chartered Psychologist and Director of ComposurePsychology. We have recently started to work together and her personal journey, battling and living with incurable cancer, whilst setting up and growing a business, pursuing her passions for hobbies outside work and setting up a foundation and finding ways to support her friends in business. Her commitment, drive and focus on taking action is inspiring. 

What is the best piece of business advice you have received to date? 

Relax and enjoy the journey. This was given to me more than once by my first business coach. I am very much focussed on looking forward to the next task or project.  My coach reminded me that I am in business for myself now and I can create the business and lifestyle I want, and that looking back and reflecting on what you have achieved is a crucial part of planning forwards. Time moves so quickly when you are running a business that it’s easy to forget to look back and celebrate all you are achieving and remember to enjoy the journey. 

How do you create an evenly balanced work and personal life? 

This is something I am continually working on because I love what I do so much, but I have learnt that I am more creative and inspired when I spend time away from my desk. When I am working from home, I am quite firm with my boundaries. I tend to start early and finish around 5pm. When I shut my office door at the end of the day, I devote the rest of the day to my family. Whilst I am always contactable if something happens, as PR is 24/7, I also know what needs to be dealt with immediately and what can wait until the next day. 

Name a seminal point in your career so far? 

I was winding down after a very successful conference we had run for a client in Dallas, Texas. I was feeling pleased with myself, everything had gone well, the client was happy, I was doing what I loved, and doing it well. I remember I was at the Dallas World Aquarium watching jellyfish, which were having an almost hypnotic effect on me, when my phone rang. It was my childminder ringing to ask if it was ok if she took my son to the swimming pool for his first swimming experience. 

At that moment, I realised that what I thought of as being successful was what others, most particularly my corporate world, expected of me. I wasn’t being the person I wanted to be. I wanted to be the mum who was there for the first moments, who wasn’t asleep all weekend from exhaustion from the continual travelling and working late. 

When I returned home I left my corporate job and moved into charity PR, taking a job locally, giving me the work-life balance I wanted. I learned that being present for the people in my life, clients, family and friends is what really matters to me. People are human beings and work their best when valued and appreciated, listened to and heard. 

What gives you ultimate career satisfaction? 

Achieving for my clients. I get as thrilled as they do when they are featured in their ideal publication or show. 

Are there any leading entrepreneurs or SME leaders that you admire and if so, why?- 

Carrie Green, Founder and CEO of the Female Entrepreneur Association (FEA). I admire her attitude to business, her approach of getting on with it, building and maintaining momentum, trying new things, keeping what works and ditching what doesn’t, constantly learning from those around her and working on her own growth mindset. 

How do you define your own success? 

Having the flexibility, time and financial freedom to live life on my terms, to deliver great results for my clients, travel when I want to and grow and learn. To get to the end of the day feeling that I have achieved what I set out to and that I made a difference in some way to someone else’s day. 

Finally, what can we expect from you next? 

I am expanding my team of associates and building out a coaching programme to provide support, knowledge and accountability to women in business who want to successfully build their profile and manage their own PR in a way which is authentic to them.

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