PR Profile: Hannah O'Donnell, Founder and Managing Director of Straight Up PR
Could you tell me about yourself and your role at Straight Up PR?
Hannah O’Donnell, Founder and Managing Director of better-for-you PR agency, Straight Up PR and website design and branding agency Straight Up Studio. For the purpose of this interview, I will refer to my role at Straight Up PR.
Straight Up PR is Australia’s leading PR agency for brands in the health, wellness and better-for-you space, with clients including the likes of Pic’s Peanut Butter, Whittaker’s, DARI’S, Vegepod, Oliver’s, MOJO, al.ive body, Proper Crisps, Regal Salmon, Cryo Science, Nimbus Co, CrossFit, Australian Dental Association, Ocsober and countless more.
In 2019, we recognised a need for a PR agency that could help New Zealand brands cross the Tasman to reach a new audience. We are now known as the tried and tested Australian PR agency of choice, successfully launching and representing NZ brands in this market too.
What is your career background, and how did you get started?
Working in the world of PR for almost 18 years, I started my career interning for free to gain as much experience as I could while I was still completing my studies – a Bachelor of Communications, Majoring in Marketing and PR. I swiftly moved into a full-time entry level position and progressed my way up in the industry, working predominantly in agency PR. My love for connecting with people and generating media wins (TV, print, or online!) was real and I couldn’t hide my excitement for a killer pitch email or for hosting an event with media and influencers in tow. I became fond of managing people and mentoring my teams to grow personally and professionally, as they achieved first-class results for our clients, making for a very happy place to work. I saw the hardship it was to juggle work and having young children and realised that to start and have my own business would afford me the opportunity to do both. This was at a time where the health and wellness industry was starting to take off, and there were fashion agencies doing health PR for instance, and I realised that there wasn’t a PR agency specialising in this area, and there needed to be. Passionate about the growing power of the PR industry and health and wellness personally, Straight Up PR was created in 2013 to fill a gap in the market for a PR agency that specialised in well-being, both inside and outside of work.
What are some of the highlights of your career so far?
Now I know awards aren’t everything, but they do feel pretty good and this one came at a time when I needed it most. I had made the brave decision to leave my secure full-time job and start my own business. I had been working in the PR industry for almost 10 years and the time had come to follow my intuition and innate desire to start my own thing. In 2013 I started Straight Up PR and that year I was awarded, B&T’s 30 under 30. Now funnily enough, 10 years on I haven’t submitted any other award entries but maybe I should? Watch this space.
What advice would you give someone trying to develop in their PR/Comms career?
Work hard. The word “work” seems to have been lost in the vocabulary of the youth of today. Not to sound loaded, but in my experience, I’ve definitely seen a shift take place over the past five years, in particular. To work, have a job (any job!) was such a win when I started out. It was dare I say it, cool to work. Even for free, as I interned to get my foot in the door of a noteworthy PR agency. I commend this sort of work ethic. Someone who is willing to put in the time, discover the ropes, go the distance, has a great attitude and has a yearning to learn and grow. Where has the hunger for work gone? A good work ethic? It’s a privilege to work and an even bigger privilege to enjoy your work. It’s not a given that you’ll love your work, and that’s ok. Some days are going to drag and others you’ll have a pep in your step. The main thing is that you start, you take initiative, you put your energy into something, and you prove yourself. This is when the doors will open and opportunities will arise. Almost like the power of manifestation if you’re into that. You too can create a life that you’ll love.
What are you most proud of in the work that you do?
Owning the PR for the health and wellness industry in Australia. It’s easy to be swayed by big budgets or unhealthy campaigns, but if it’s not aligned to my personal health and wellness values then we don’t take on the business. We stick to only working with brands in the better-for-you space who are doing great things for their customers. We want to help to make the world a better place and how we will do this is by sharing the news of brands doing better in Australia.
What's the most valuable lesson/advice you've learnt about work in the PR/Comms industry?
It’s cool to be kind. I think there’s a shirt now that says this. And I’m here for it. Being kind isn’t a weakness in leadership. Too often we are told that to be a leader and a female leader, you need to maintain your status, be strong and have people do what you say, and kindness is a weakness. I believe that being a kind leader is the next step in people-led leadership and it’s essential to success. Go ahead and lead with your heart, have empathy, empower people, cultivate a culture of open feedback, have integrity, be self-aware and read a room well – and you’ll go a long way.
Could you tell me a bit about a recent campaign or project you have worked on that has been particularly interesting/successful?
I am super proud of how we’ve been able to pivot during the world of covid. Lots of media publications closed down, budgets were cut and stopped for paying Influencers, and events ceased. We not only bounced, but we also grew and we moved quickly to do so. Jumping online to do virtual events, doing creative mailers like I have never done before, taking brand collaborations to a whole new level. A favourite would have to be our campaign for client, Lo Bros Cola. The brief was to reinvigorate interest in Lo Bros Cola and create chatter about the better-for-you beverage via a creative Influencer focused campaign in both Australia and New Zealand. We brought to life a brand collaboration with iconic ice-cream company Ben and Jerry’s with a multi-faceted PR approach.
The first component involved a creative mailer send out that played on the old school ‘Spider’, whereby recipients received a cooler bag with all the elements to create a ‘Better-For-You Spider’. This spurred nostalgic feelings, reinventing the old school classic and inspired action from the (unpaid) Influencers in Australia and New Zealand.
Straight Up PR negotiated and managed a (Paid) Influencer campaign which occurred simultaneously with high-profile Australians who encapsulated the Lo Bros brand. Maximising the association with Ben and Jerry’s, Lo Bros hosted a giveaway on its Instagram and leveraged Scoop Stores for physical activations, including a Free Cola Weekend in Manly and Ponsonby, and a Halloween inspired limited UberEats offering to App users.
What is something about your work or yourself that you think people would be surprised to learn?
I’ve just signed up to study Reiki and have a big passion for the spiritual wellbeing space. I look forward to learning more about energy and how to harness the power of this and continue to apply my learnings to what we do at Straight Up PR. Said so wisely by Albert Einstein “Everything is energy and that is all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you can not help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. This is physics.”
At Straight Up PR we are no strangers to a yearly vision board workshop, listening to our intuition, practicing mindfulness, taking a positive outlook on life and showcasing a genuine love and zest for life, as we believe in the power of being the energy we want to attract.