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A Day in the Life of... Conor O'Donovan, Head of Marketing & Communications at Enterprise Ireland

Posted By Administration, Wednesday 15 May 2019

Conor O'Donovan

What does a Head of Marketing & Communications at Enterprise Ireland do?

The most important element of my role is to lead the Corporate Marketing & Communications function to support the achievement of Enterprise Ireland’s organisational objectives, which are to build the scale and expand the reach of Irish companies, to grow exports and jobs, and to add economic value to the country.

Enterprise Ireland is the Irish Government's trade and export agency responsible for helping Irish companies to start-up, innovate and scale globally. Last year Enterprise Ireland invested €23m in start-up companies.

That makes it a broad and varied role, which involves leading global PR and communications - making sure that an awareness of the innovation and capabilities of Irish companies is built across the world - helping to drive digital transformation strategies so that we keep up with important technologies, and rolling out marketing campaigns to ensure we are reaching Irish companies and their potential customers. The role involves engaging teams in a range of sectors in Ireland and overseas from farming to fintech, as well as engaging the media and B2B audiences at home and abroad, to ensure Irish businesses are supported to compete internationally.


What were your key career moves to get to your current role?

I graduated with a B.Comm from UCD and began my career with Enterprise Ireland on its International Graduate Programme, based in the UK, which gave me a great grounding in international marketing and business development. I subsequently went into a family business in the private sector which we developed and sold, and later worked with a start-up tech company. More recently, I was director of communications and marketing with the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, the largest representative body for the property and construction sector in Ireland.

While I was there, I was lucky enough to win the Irish Times / UCD Smurfit Graduate Business School MBA Scholarship following a national competition. My MBA thesis was on a market entry strategy for a new fintech start-up company that Enterprise Ireland had invested in. Meeting the founders and working on the market strategy reignited my interest in entrepreneurship and international business, which led me back to Enterprise Ireland and this role.

In a way, it feels like I have come full circle and am fortunate to be able to bring my start-up, SME and large organisation marketing leadership experience to drive marketing and communications programs with the ambitious aim of significantly growing Irish business.


What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?

The biggest challenge facing our clients is Brexit and the uncertainty it represents. Enterprise Ireland has been preparing for a hard Brexit since before the UK voted to leave the EU in June 2016.

Brexit also reflects one of the largest professional challenges faced in this role. Since 2016, we have been implementing marketing and communications programmes in Ireland and internationally to support Irish exporters to respond to the challenges and opportunities that Brexit presents. As an Agency, we must always stay ahead of the curve in terms of market volatility, trade risks and innovation and future technology trends, to be ready to support Irish businesses when they need it to pre-empt and respond to global trends in an agile way.

Recognising the need to support Irish exporters through Brexit, we developed a Prepare for Brexit campaign and launched a website, which has been cited by the European Commission as an exemplar of advanced contingency planning for Brexit. I am delighted that we have been shortlisted as a finalist for the All Ireland Marketing Awards.


What key skills do you need to be effective in your role?

A number of skills are essential in this role. Strategic thinking is critical at a time when the pace of change in international business is more rapid than ever. Enterprise Ireland has an ambitious strategy.  

In order for the organisation to achieve its ambitions, the Marketing & Communications function needs to be laser-focused on supporting the delivery of that strategy even as the landscape around us changes. Leadership, operations and communications skills are also critical in order to deliver this.

Stakeholder engagement skills are important as we engage with people right across the organisation, across the business community and client base, and across Government.

Problem solving and a strong grounding in finance are also skills that I must bring to my role on a daily basis. 

Importantly, a strategy can’t be delivered alone, so you must empower people, and motivate your team and everyone in the organisation to help get the job done.


Describe a typical working day.

My days are usually very varied and very busy. I am in the office early working on plans and catching up on emails which can often come through overnight from colleagues overseas. We have 34 international offices (and rising) and a key focus for the marketing team is implementing international digital marketing campaigns to promote Irish exporters to international B2B buyers across 31 of sectors and markets through our platform.

Depending on the day of the week, I will usually spend the rest of the day in meetings, with the communications and marketing team, with cross-functional teams with colleagues from across the organisation on a range of initiatives and upcoming campaigns and events.

On a typical day, I might meet with the IT team to define how we improve our digital presence, review pitches from our agency to ensure our campaign messaging will be clearly understood, present plans and performance to senior stakeholders, engage with Government departments around upcoming job announcements or to discuss international communications plans around upcoming trade missions or trade events.


What do you love most about your role?

The best part of my role is getting to work with fantastic people right across the organisation who are passionate about the Agency’s purpose – which is to help Irish exporters to grow their businesses in Ireland and overseas. These exporters are champions of Irish industry and, while they aren’t all household names, they employ over 215,000 people in towns, cities and villages across Ireland – roughly the same as multinational companies located here.

The jobs they provide are the lifeblood of the economy and each new jobs announcement by a small or medium-sized business we support is a cause for celebration. Getting to see those companies bring their latest innovations - across agritech, medtech, AI, robotics and digital technologies, and construction - to the world stage is amazing.

We are a small country that makes a big impact and the companies that Enterprise Ireland champions are central to that success.


Looking ahead, where might your career path lead to next?

I am enjoying my work and enjoy supporting the important contribution Enterprise Ireland is making to Irish businesses and the wider economy. I have my hands full at present!


To whom do you look for professional inspiration in your role?

It’s inspiring to work with one of Ireland’s great CEOs at Enterprise Ireland. Julie Sinnamon’s vision, commitment and passion set the tone for the whole organisation and her belief in Irish business is beyond compare.

Our board is filled with the best of Irish business acumen, from those who built impressive careers in multinationals to those who steered family businesses and tech companies to huge success.

Our client base of Irish entrepreneurs is hugely inspiring. These are the founders and their teams who have developed businesses and crossed the globe to win new business in new markets. Every week I’m amazed by the exceptional founders and leaders of Irish SMEs that we work with. 

In general, I am inspired by the professionalism, commitment and willingness to go the extra mile for Irish businesses that I see across Enterprise Ireland from our leadership team, to colleagues across the agency in Ireland, to our overseas teams who aligned to our mission to grow great Irish companies with global ambition.

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