Ellen Gunning is the director and founder of the Irish Academy of Public Relations. She has been successfully training students and corporate agencies alike since the Academy’s establishment in 1992. Her many accomplishments are reflective of her strong belief in self-starting.
Since her very first job as a telephonist, Ellen has drawn on her adventurous spirit, voracious entrepreneurship, and dedication to success to become a world-renowned female business figure.
Ellen holds an honours MA in Communications and Cultural Studies from Dublin City University. In 2007, she received a Fellowship of the Public Relations Institute of Ireland. Ellen is an experienced author, broadcast journalist, PR expert and online-education entrepreneur. She has her own Dublin City FM radio program, Mediascope.
Ellen’s vast knowledge enables her to speak on a variety of topics, ranging from the power of brands to networking skills to giving a radio interview. Ellen is one of only 6 women in Ireland to chair a radio station, with there being 180 stations in all of the country. She is chairman of the Board of Directors for Dublin City FM.
HERizon: You have a number of successes and roles. As one of only 6 women in Ireland chairing a radio station, you’re a female broadcast journalist pioneer. Tell us about what brought you to radio?
Ellen: I’ve always loved radio. We listened a lot as children and I can’t sit in the car without turning on the radio to find out what people are talking about and get the pulse of the nation whether that’s about politics, business or anything else. Also, from the PR point of view, you are always trying to keep up-to-date with current affairs and with public sentiment, and radio is absolutely brilliant for that. And, of course, I love listening to how people answer (or dodge!) questions and really enjoy trying to assess who is spinning and why. I’m a communications addict! On my radio show, I have the pleasure of interviewing people who are experts in their fields and I learn something from them every week.
HERizon: In your media training business, have you noticed an increase in the number of female clients over the last years?
Ellen: Yes. The number of women in business – and in senior roles in business – has definitely increased in the last few years.
HERizon: Does your media training differ for women and men?
Ellen: In a lot of ways it is exactly the same – we train people in how to answer questions, anticipate supplementals, polish their key messages, sound good and look good on both radio and TV. Women struggle with taking credit for what they do – we often have to work on that with them. They fear being seen as ‘snooty’. Men’s defence system, in business, is often to become ‘superior’ so we often need to train that out of them for interviews.
HERizon: What top tips would you give any woman doing an interview?
Ellen: Always prepare. It doesn’t matter how often you’ve done interviews in the past—preparation is everything. Know the style of your interviewer – it can make a big difference to your perception of how the question was asked. Prepare three key points that you want to get across to listeners during your interview – and make sure you cover them!
HERizon: Obviously as one of only 6 women out of 180 national stations chairing a radio station, you are still in the minority. What trends do you see in radio in terms of gender parity?
Ellen: I’m honestly so delighted to hold the position of chairman of the board of Dublin City FM radio station. We are the only station licenced to cater to the greater Dublin area. I’m a Dubliner, so this is a great honour. I think we are seeing more women in radio all the time. The board of Dublin City FM has gender balance, and that is becoming more common in radio stations. I would like to see more female ‘anchors’ on daytime national radio – and more women chairing radio stations around the country!
HERizon: Are there emerging opportunities for women in radio?
Ellen: I believe there are great opportunities for women in radio—they just need to believe in themselves.
HERizon: Gender parity in radio is a changing landscape and Irish people are becoming more accustomed to female presenters but Ireland still lags behind. What feedback do you get as a radio presenter from your female and male audiences?
Ellen: To be honest, I am never conscious that I am a ‘female’ presenter, and I have never had any feedback about my gender when I’m interviewing.
HERizon: You’ve shown admirable commitment to improving worldwide access to PR education. What’s been your experience?
Ellen: I’ve collaborated worldwide with partner organizations in South America, Africa, the Middle East, and other European countries. I never thought 26 years ago when I started this business that I would have the pleasure of working with PR professionals in so many countries around the world. We teach in 6 languages and link with so many different cultures who all have different communications challenges. I continue to learn every day of the week. It’s a big part of the reason why I get up every morning and say ‘bring it on!’
HERizon: Tell us a little bit about the books you’ve written?
Ellen: I’ve written three books, including Public Relations- A Practical Approach, the core text for all PR courses taught in Ireland. Anyone who has worked in Public Relations has studied either the first or second edition of this text. It mixes practical evidence with current practice, referencing Irish examples and case studies while still giving readers some international perspective.
The third edition of Public Relations- A Practical Approach will be published by Macmillan in London in the spring of 2018. For the first time, the book will be published as an international text. I’m having great fun discovering what kinds of things PR people are up to around the world.
In fact, my third book is also about PR- 10 Red Hot Tips to Promote Your Business was published by Mercier Press in November, 2016. This one gives small and mid-sized organisations some of the do’s and don’ts of PR. It is a really practical book which teaches SMEs and small business owners the tricks of the trade and how to get their names out there.
My second book, Capital Women of Influence, profiles 13 women of varying disciplines who exercise incredible influence over Dublin. This book came about because all these women had been on my radar for years, and I was fascinated by them. I decided that over the summer, during the break from my radio show, I would interview them, with a couple of rules: they all had to be of different ages—because at different ages they would have different life experiences—and they couldn’t all be drawn from the one area.
The areas of interest they reflect are my areas of interest: politics, media, advocacy, and the arts. The book began life as a radio series, but Marie Davis kept encouraging me to write a book as well. She was working as an administrator on our courses in UCD, and every week she would come into the office and ask who I was currently interviewing? Every week she told me ‘there’s a book in that, more than a radio series.’ Because of her, I wrote the book.
HERizon: Were there any key insights you gained from interviewing these successful women?
Ellen: These were amazing women altogether. They all had a number of traits in common: they all worked long hours and thought little of it; they didn’t see obstacles – they saw opportunity; they all gave credit to others for helping them along the way; they were all genuinely nice people and most felt that they still had a way to go before they could say that they had achieved work-life balance.
HERizon: Increasingly, there are more female entrepreneurs and you’ve written a book for business owners. What are your 3 top tips in promoting a business?
Ellen: Yes, my most recent book, 10 Red Hot Tips to Promote Your Business, was written, specifically, with SMEs in mind. My three top tips? One has to be to constantly remind people that you are around. No matter how good your business is, people will forget you if they don’t see you regularly, so keeping a presence on social media and sending regular ezines is really important. A second tip would be to look around you and see who you can use as a third-party endorser. It is very difficult, as a business owner, to praise yourself – but when others do it, people pay attention. And finally, everyone who runs a business has an expertise that they often take for granted. Your expertise is valuable. Find a platform that allows your expertise to shine – it lends great credibility to your business.
HERizon: And you lecture on PR and Media?
Ellen: Yes, I have lectured to Academy students at UCC, UCD, GMIT, and I guest lecture on most of the PR programmes which are taught in Ireland. I also love giving corporate training and I’ve been fortunate to train some of Ireland’s largest companies: County Enterprise Boards, BNP Paribas, Cork City Council, ESB, and the Small Firms Association.
HERizon: What are the greatest strengths that women have?
Ellen: If I look at the women I’ve had the pleasure to work with over the years, their greatest strengths have been absolute honesty (they always gave me true opinions), support, enthusiasm, creativity and hard work.
HERizon: Life isn’t all work though. What do you do for balance?
Ellen: I love to travel – I really enjoy being exposed to new cultures and learning about them. I read a lot – although ‘read’ might be an exaggeration – I ‘skim’ a lot of books! I enjoy hosting my radio show (I think of it as play-time), and I’ve been commenting on the news on Ireland AM on TV3 this year, and that is great fun. Any time spent with Tony, family and friends is always good and usually involves too much talk and laughter! And I love drinking tea and chatting!
HERizon: You’ve already achieved so much. Do you have any other goals?
Ellen: My two favorite words are ‘world domination.’ My definition of success will be if by the time I die, in every country in the world when someone says they need to study PR, the Irish Academy is at least one of the top three recommendations for schooling. That’s success. I never expected to create a joint venture with Orient Planet PR in the Middle East in Dubai…or to have colleges in Nigeria and Greece teaching our courses. We teach in six different languages already, yet there are many more countries we can influence. What began as courses taught only in Dublin has become a quest for world domination!
Ellen’s accomplishments show dedication to her personal motto, “bring it on!” She has started two businesses and now runs one of the largest PR schools in Ireland—she is committed to success and teaching others to succeed as well. For more information, visit the Irish Academy of Public Relations website.