“After the 1996 election cycle, I decided that I had become burned out on politics,” he says. “It required a tremendous time commitment with little financial reward, and as I got older, my priorities changed, and I decided to move to the corporate world.”
While O’Connor took the long road to the public relations industry, he claims his political background has helped contribute to his success in his public relations career.
“It seemed like a natural transition to go from the world of politics to public relations, in part because I had worked with the press in the political arena,” O’Connor explains. “Yet I was amazed that many of the ‘big-name’ PR firms failed to see the value of my political background. In my opinion, the world of politics is the best training ground for doing PR: it is incredibly fast-paced, and you have to do rapid downside planning because everything you say can have immense consequences. You also are usually forced to marshal your financial resources, and as a result, you have to come up with very clever ways to garner media attention. In my opinion, if you can handle PR in the political arena, any other type of PR is easy.”
O’Connor now boasts more than 10 years of experience in the public relations industry and has held positions that include senior account executive, director of communications, and executive vice president. He is currently president of his own PR firm, Paradigm Communications, where he works with clients from a variety of industry sectors, including higher education, financial services, and high tech.
As a PR professional, O’Connor aggressively monitors the news and relies on his interpersonal and selling skills to ensure that his clients receive the exposure they deserve.
|Q. What do you enjoy doing when you aren’t working?
A. Spending time with my wife and kids. I truly treasure every minute I get with them.
Q. Who is your role model?
A. My father. He is the most self-motivated, disciplined man I know. He has been a highly successful entrepreneur, and he has encouraged my brother and sister and I to follow our passions. “If you do what you love, the money will follow” is one of his mottoes.
Q. What was the last magazine you read?
A. Robb Report.
Q. What is your favorite quote or saying?
A. I recently read a quote from Gene Simmons, a member of KISS and a shrewd marketing executive: “When someone asks me, ‘What’s the secret of success?’ I tell them, ‘Forget about secrets and forget about success—just work your ass off and hope the planets line up.”
“I often think that PR professionals make too much of the ‘science’ of PR,” he says. “When you strip it down to its essence, you are paying attention to what is most important to your clients and the media and then bringing them the information or results they need to do their jobs and succeed.”
The decision to venture out on his own came when O’Connor realized that he had climbed as high as he could in the company he was with.
“After working at a small high-tech PR firm for five years, becoming the number-two person, there seemed to be no room for advancement,” O’Connor says. “I always thought that I might do some things differently if I were running a PR firm—and one day I decided to put my money where my mouth was and open up my own shop. I have always been an entrepreneur at heart.”
While launching and operating his own firm is something that O’Connor describes as “my proudest achievement,” he also says that it takes a lot more work than working for a company:
“The principal challenge of running a small PR firm is that the buck stops with you, and as a result, you have to be involved in all aspects of running the business—not just the fun, strategic stuff but also business development, payroll and HR issues, etc. You also have to force yourself to let go of the reins as much as possible and empower the people who work for you to take on leadership roles and responsibilities, because if you don’t, you will drown in the workload.”
O’Connor offers the following advice for professionals or students considering careers in the public relations industry:
“Read as much news as you can. I find that my best strategic ideas come from perpetually immersing myself in the stories and issues that are important to my clients. And focus your reading not so much on publications but on subject matter; the Internet is great for feeding you volumes of very specific information.”