Inspirational Women: Hannah O’Donnell nee Furness

Each week, SHESAID features an inspiring woman who has been kind enough to share her story with our readers. She might be a leader in her chosen field, someone still on their own path striving to make a difference or simply someone with a remarkable story to tell. These women contribute their own knowledge, expertise and life lessons in order to truly inspire others.

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Name and role

Hannah O’Donnell (nee Furness), founder and managing director of Straight Up PR.

Straight Up PR is a health and wellbeing lifestyle PR agency, whereby we connect our clients with the people they care about. With our Straight Up approach to PR we work with media, bloggers and influencers to deliver strategic, and meaningful public relations campaigns that achieve outstanding results.

What do you do on a day-to-day basis?

With my team I generate the right kind of noise for and about our clients from their target audience. I do this by connecting with people on a deeper than surface level, through getting to know my clients personally and professional and taking a keen interest in understanding their business objectives. Once I’ve got this covered, I can then build a targeted public relations strategy and advise on the various ways of reaching and exceeding their goals, and reasons for engaging in PR. We then work closely with media, bloggers and influencers and provide them with content which we know is right up their alley for their respective outlets.

We don’t stop here as these days PR is so much more than your contact list, it’s also about being able to appreciate a damn good publicity opportunity when you hear or see it – always knowing and being able to recommend the right events for your clients to attend, awards they should be entering, discussions they should be taking part in on social media or speaking opportunities they should be going for. But how can we possibly do this all in a days work? Well that’s easy, it’s called communication – and not the kind where you sit behind your computer all day, no, we get out and we take our clients with us – totally immersing ourselves and those who work with us, in the amazing possibilities that are out there. If you just take the time to truly connect with people you’ll be surprised by the beautiful opportunities that will present themselves.

How/when did you know this is what you wanted to do as a career?

I studied a Bachelor of Communications with majors in Marketing and PR and was on the fence for a little bit as to which one I really wanted to focus on – because I loved (and still do) organising events and being creative but also writing, and the power of the media also fascinated me. I then realised that PR could provide me with all of this. Brilliant.

As for having my own PR agency, this has always been something I knew I would do or perhaps others around me knew I would do and would often remind me of this, but for me it was just a matter of when. I needed to get the experience I needed and learn from amazing and not so amazing leaders, make mistakes and then hit that moment in life which so many people talk about as their defining moment, and that which spurs them on to do something daring, or just simply, do it. This moment, when I decided to make the decision to resign from the security of my fulltime job and entertain the idea of starting my own business, actually wasn’t as scary as you would think. It just felt so right. And I now appreciate why that is, when you’re doing something that you are meant to do and living in your authentic self then it should feel like you’ve been there before and you’re in your natural flow.

Where do you find your inspiration?

I don’t look to other people in my industry for inspiration and I’ve never just had one person who I’ve admired. Since starting Straight Up PR my biggest source of inspiration has been the health and wellbeing industry, as although I love PR and the media industry and this was what I always wanted to be the core of my business, I also knew that I didn’t want to run my business or life like a typical PR agency as saw the huge burnout in staff and futile client relationships sometimes cultivated. So I modeled my business vision on that of the health and wellbeing industry, whereby we live and breath the health and wellbeing ‘workstyle’ aka lifestyle. By this I mean the typical 9-5 job doesn’t apply to us, we do yoga and pilates and go for walks during the day, and work from cafes or parks if that’s what we need to do. We listen to our bodies and energise our souls and in return our clients are thanking us for it, as we consistently deliver creative and outstanding results. And we do it all with a smile.

Did you have a mentor? Who/what helped you to get your career off the ground?

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that you learn more from your ‘not so great’ examples in life then the good ones, which I can somewhat relate to from a work perspective as it’s often these people that provoke some kind of reaction within and fuel something you might never have known existed (I thank them for this.) Sure, I learnt from these significant others a lot of what I don’t like and don’t want to be like as a manager and team member, but also what I do appreciate and what’s truly important to me. But in saying this I’ve had some incredible people along the way support me in my career journey and I’m very thankful for the opportunities that have come my way. But most of all I also have to thank my parents for this as mentors can only get you so far; you also have to have the right attitude, as that will take you the whole way.

My big tip here is that there’s always going to be people along the way who will help and encourage you, inspire and back you and also those that won’t be so supportive, but that’s ok. It’s when you start to front up to life wholeheartedly and allow yourself the beauty of what others have to offer you whether you like it or not, and start to be actively present getting comfortable with trying new things and taking risks and being vulnerable, then the worst that could happen is that you might just find happiness and in turn success with your life professionally but also personally. Give it a go.

What were the stumbling blocks, initially getting started on your career path and since then?

Taking the first step and understanding that I didn’t have to complete the staircase straight away or have all of the answers. Once I made the decision to do my own thing and start Straight Up PR then the rest just followed. Sometimes I have to stop myself from saying how easy it was, as of course there’s been challenges but they’re my own challenges and I would have it no other way. I love that my husband encouraged and allowed me to just take some time off to do my yoga and pilates and chill out, well, this was the plan but within days the word spread and business started flowing in that I had started out on my own. Months went by and with business booming I thought I better get serious about this and employ my first employee. Whilst I considered working from home with Nastasia (my right arm!) I thought that we better get an office space to base ourselves and all of the ‘stuff’ that comes along with working in PR – magazines and our gorgeous clients yummy products can take up a bit of room!

How did you overcome them?

I simply just faced them head on and with the most supportive husband, family and friends I felt like I could conquer anything, and still do. You know it’s funny, I often think about getting a business coach and entertain the idea and then once I read what they have to say about limiting beliefs and fearing failure or success, it just reconfirms for me that what I’ve got is an exception to the rule as I’ve fortunately never suffered with this but can see how hindering our mind can be.

I’ve also realised over time some of my own body and mind triggers and what does and doesn’t work for me. So at all times I try to remain true to this. For instance, just this month actually my husband and I settled on our house and started renovations, so we’ve been living with my parents-in-law while the bathroom gets done. To add to this we’ve moved from central CBD to north shore, yes over the bridge, our friends have been saying goodbye to us like we’ve moved overseas! Well we have I suppose, but not really. This change in my life has actively reminded me of the power of our mind. I pride myself at Straight Up PR that we don’t do things the typical ‘agency way’ and that we all listen to our bodies, minds and hearts so that we can deliver stellar results for our clients, and most importantly be happy. And this month, after not feeling this sensation for a long time, I felt scattered and unsettled, I felt like I was back in the day to day grind of old agency life, getting up early to race to meetings, not getting to my pilates class, leaving late.. and I didn’t like it.

So I have actively been trying to make little changes so that I can get into my own little rhythm again so that I can get through these next five weeks a little in limbo. A sucker for routine some might say. But hey, if you know what works for you then you will only ever be your own barrier – take the steps and make the changes in your life so that you can be truly happy. Too many people sit still and ignore all of the signs – instead listen to them and take action.

What are your goals for the future?

To continue to grow Straight Up PR at a steady rate in Australia and then look offshore to New Zealand to expand our horizons, as we’ve noticed a huge surge in health and wellbeing products and businesses that could do with our expertise. We’ve also just started Straight Up People and we’re very much looking forward to growing the talent management side of the business for health and wellbeing influencers.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow the same path as you?

Don’t use recruiters if you’re in PR. You should be able to PR yourself. So get out there, immerse yourself in the media industry, do your research on the type of PR that you would like to do and agencies that you respect and you would like to work at. Then contact the agencies directly and ask to take the MD out for a tea or coffee or even a juice so that you can communicate face to face how you could add value to their business. The fact that you are asking for someone’s valuable time shows that you aren’t going to waste it and you’re somebody that they should meet. Then after this, follow up with a nice email. This is often the step that people miss and for me is the most important because if I meet with someone and they don’t follow up then they are not even going to be considered.

My dream child Nastasia actually hit this step out of the park – as when we met I bought her a green tea and was talking about how much I loved tea, and days went by and I hadn’t received an email and was starting to get baffled as I pride myself on having good gut instincts with people and thought the energy was right with this one…  but instead of ‘just an email’ Nastasia actually sent me a hand written card in the post with a green tea enclosed saying how nice it was to meet and “this time the green tea is on me!” Winner!