Donnell, a Northwestern University graduate who majored in broadcasting, followed through on his friend's suggestion. He eventually joined the Chicago offices of the global public relations firm Edelman and has remained on the agency side of the PR industry ever since.
"After 12 years at Edelman and eight at Ruder Finn, I opened my own agency in the Chicago area. Later, I returned to Colorado, where I was raised, and opened an office for my business there," said Donnell, who founded Donnell Public Relations nearly 20 years ago.
Donnell described his public relations agency as a one-person business representing small and mid-sized companies. Most of his assignments focus on media relations, and his clients include an industrial paint company and a company that develops online 401(k) plans for small businesses. In addition to being responsible for client recruitment and service as well as administrative duties for his business, Donnell conducts freelance work for larger PR agencies. He also has a related business that handles marketing, promotions, and media relations for the sports of rodeo and bull riding.
Donnell's ability to adapt to advancements in the tools, technology, business, and social networking of the PR industry has enabled him to operate his successful one-person public relations firm for nearly 20 years.
"When I started in this business, we had no fax machines, computers, cell phones, PDAs, email, etc.," said Donnell. "Today, these tools enable us to stay in touch with our clients—and vice versa—24/7 from virtually anywhere on earth, if need be, and allow us to be significantly more informed, productive, and responsive."
With decades of experience running his own PR agency, Donnell believes the public relations industry will continue to grow and adapt to the needs of its expanding client base.
"I believe more and more small companies will seek out professional public relations assistance in order to remain competitive. I'm not certain as a profession we will be doing too many different things...we will just be doing the same things much differently," he said.
Donnell advised people seeking careers in public relations to learn journalistic and business-style writing and to constantly improve their media relations abilities.
"These tools will help them progress up the career ladder in the corporate, public sector, or agency worlds," he said.