Hannah O’Donnell is the energetic Managing Director of Sydney-based PR firm Straight Up PR.

After recognising a gap in the market for a health and wellness-focused PR firm, Hannah blazed onto the small business scene in 2013 taking out a coveted spot on B&T’s 30 under 30 in her first year of business.

I caught up with Hannah to learn more about her wellness-focused approach to business, work life integration and how she tackles working in such a notoriously competitive industry.

Profile shot of Hannah O'Donnell from Straight Up PR
Managing Director of Straight Up PR Hannah O’Donnell

Hannah, as the MD of Straight Up PR you represent brands and influencers in the health and wellness space. Because of that, I’m sure wellness in the workplace is important to you. What does a normal day in the ‘office’ looks like for you?

Every day is different! My office days are Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and I work remotely from home on Wednesday and Friday. It gives me the opportunity to look after my kids, Frankie who is three and Beau who is one.

Most days I kick off the morning with Pilates or yoga and then dive into meetings with the team, clients and prospective clients.

Then I have computer time and action emails, work on business forecasting, billings, team capacity and our own PR and marketing strategies. I love to work from cafes and be outdoors in nature – that’s where some of my best ideas are formulated!

It sounds like you have a great balance going on. What does work/life balance mean to you?

I’m all about practicing what I preach – and I believe in work life integration rather than work/life balance. To have integration, I believe you need to weave work and life together. Rather than seeing them as two separate things.

I encourage my team to put their own health first. Even when life gets ‘full’ I encourage them to keep up with their daily wellbeing practices. If they want to do a Pilates or yoga class during work hours, they can. If they need a mental health day, they can take it. Even down to getting their car serviced or hair done, they can do that too! I show my gratitude where I can and in return they do the same. 

I’ve seen first-hand how integrating your work and life results in a more productive and happy team. And one that produces outstanding work everyone is proud of. 

I’ve heard you attribute part of your success at Straight up PR to treating your team as family. Can you elaborate on that for us?

It was important for me that Straight Up PR built a workplace culture that felt like a family. I wanted my team to feel supported and safe, like work was a place to really be yourself and excel at your dreams.

I treat my team no differently to how I treat my family and friends – our relationships are built on mutual respect and care for one another.

My team are included in my life outside of work – they come to my kid’s birthday parties and are known as their Aunties. We acknowledge birthdays and special moments and we celebrate achievements both inside and outside of work.

I’ve worked at agencies in the past where I dreaded going to work. On Sundays I’d often feel sick to my stomach knowing I had to go back on Monday. I never want that for my team!

Some businesses believe work needs to be very formal and hierarchal to get the best performance from their teams. How does your family approach compare?

I absolutely expect a certain level of work and dedication from my team but because we have a good relationship they don’t want to let the team down. And more importantly they want to do a good job for themselves too. 

I’ve noticed that the more solo responsibility I give to my team to apply themselves and hold themselves accountable, the more they thrive in their roles.

We refer to each other as family and I love that. It hasn’t been easy finding the right mix of staff to achieve this, because it really comes down to personality and attitude too. But I feel blessed to now be in a place where we’ve achieved it.

I think that’s an awesome achievement, especially in an industry that is known for being super competitive. What has your experience with competition been like over the years?

I have seen the not-so-nice way women can be to other women in the workforce. We live in a world where women don’t celebrate other women’s successes enough.

Some (not all) women compete, compare and undermine one another. I was a young professional who was successful in my job and sometimes it felt like older women didn’t always like me because of it. Instead they would cut me down to make themselves feel better. 

I managed this with open communication and addressed it head on. I was determined to not let these types of experiences get me down or impact the good job I was doing.

In my heart of hearts I knew that their behaviour wasn’t a reflection on me, the work I was doing or the person I was – so I stayed true to my ‘why’ and stuck to my own lane. 

Even though it was rough to go through, I learned a lot from it in the end. I learned about the kind of manager I didn’t want to be, and as a result Straight Up PR has a group of colleagues who love their job and feel appreciated and worthy every day.

What is the one thing you think young working women need to talk more about?

The best things about being a working mum! So often you only hear about the struggle.

Yes, the juggle of working mum life is real. But it’s also pretty damn amazing that we get to work and have a family! I understand that it isn’t the right choice for everyone, but for those that want it, I think we should celebrate it more!

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“Perfect is boring” – No one wants to be known as boring, life is too short. Get out there and live big, not boring! 

Brooke Hampton’s advice to “Speak to your children as if they are the wisest, kindest, most beautiful and magical humans on earth, for what they believe is what they will become” – I always try to apply this to my team at work too.

“How you choose to show up magnetises what shows up for you.” I’m a big believer in the power of manifestation and the power of attraction. 

Sending out a big thank you to Hannah O’Donnell for sharing her experience with us. Check out more of Hannah’s thoughts in our previous post How to land your dream job with PR boss babe Hannah O’Donnell, or head over to our career interview section for more interviews.

Until next time,
Madeleine xo