How I made it: Orla Moran, MD, CPG at H+K

How I made it featuring Orla Moran, Managing Director of Consumer Packaged Goods at H+K

Hanson Search steps inside the world of Hill+Knowlton to interview Orla Moran, Managing Director, Consumer Packaged Goods, for its 'Inspiring Stories' career series. Orla shares her career journey, advice to her twenty-year-old self and thoughts on how to improve diversity in the workplace.

How did you get into the communications industry?

PR was very much a deliberate career choice for me. When I went to university, I studied French and kept my options open. I decided to do a lot of internships and work experience and from that concluded that PR was definitely what I wanted to do. In my final year of university I became the PR rep for our Erasmus Society to gain some more experience and I then stayed on at Cardiff and did an MA in International Public Relations, which gave me loads of access both to the theory and practicalities of PR.

I finished my degree with a place on the shared graduate programme at GolinHarris, as it was at the time.

Do you have a mentor or someone who has inspired you to succeed?

I’ve been really lucky to have a series of incredible bosses over the course of my career. At Golin, Bibi Hilton and Matt Neale in particular gave me the freedom to really step up and always encouraged me to be ambitious and proactive when it comes to shaping my career. Today I look all over for people to learn from who can offer different perspectives and ways of doing things. There’s a wealth of that here at Hill+Knowlton (H+K) and there are so many unique skillsets to learn from.

On the other side of it, I am proud to be part of the WPP mentoring scheme. It’s a great opportunity to learn from those outside the immediate PR bubble. 

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your career?

I remember that switch into a management role being a definite challenge and gear shift as I found my voice and carved out my own style – both in leading business and teams. It’s always challenging to strike a balance of a nurturing yet ambitious team environment and I’m always trying to ensure we have both.

My most recent challenge has been in coming to H+K and taking over the running of the CPG practice. Coming into a well-established, well-oiled team is incredible and so it has been about ascertaining where I can play the most helpful and constructive role in pushing that further.

What career advice would you give to your twenty-year-old self?

Be honest and open about your ambition and actively and constantly look for people that you can learn from. The benefit of working for a big company is that if there’s something that you’re not getting from the 9-5 that you really you want to do more of, that opportunity most probably exists within the building – you’ve just got to have the confidence to ask for it. That’s also the benefit of working for a network – you have access to so many talents and opportunities; it’s just about grasping them. 

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry since you started your career?

When I started out, audience groups were heavily sectored off. Now, everyone is so much more engaged and people expect much more from brands than ever before. The breadth and depth model at H+K means that you are complete experts in the world that your clients operate in and whether you’re talking to a more corporate or consumer audience, or you’re speaking directly to people on social,  that clarity of message and speaking to people as humans is more important than it ever was.

What can business do to improve diversity in the workplace?

This is so important and businesses need to proactively challenge unconscious bias to think differently about the talent pool. It’s focussing less on education and more on skill set, life experience and that innate sense of cultural and creative thought. It’s also about celebrating the fact that everyone is different. In an industry that sells ideas you need to ideas access a range of perspectives. When recruiting, having the mindset of hiring for the team you want to evolve into, rather than the team you have right now, is also important. 

Flexible working must also be embraced and is crucial to attracting and retaining the best talent. It’s integral to recognise that people have a life outside of work. Specifically for parents, it also means that you’re not seeing great talent walk out of the door and never come back.

We’re taking part in the Back to Business Ship programme this year and I’m very proud to be a part of that – it speaks to the need to create a truly equal workplace.

We’ve also recently done a two-day course for all of our directors surrounding women in leadership and what the future of leadership looks like within the industry. There’s lots of discussion about it being a female-dominated industry, but at the top its predominantly men and addressing that and pushing forward female leaders is incredibly important. 

What do you think are the key qualities it takes to become a leader in today’s communications industry?

So many! For me, it’s about being able to sell, defend and praise outstanding client work and being that senior counsel and trusted partner to your clients. From a team perspective, it’s about nurturing people’s ambition and providing an environment where they feel heard, have a voice and feel excited coming into work every day under your vision. Also… always hire people who are smarter than you and don’t be afraid of hearing and listening to opinions that differ to yours!

What do you see as key to the growth of a successful team and positive working environment?

I think this is all about a sense of empowerment at work. In terms of running a team you need to be able to take in opinions from all over and value them equally. Playing to people’s strengths and helping them feel supported is key. We have a Futures Council at H+K which is doing exactly that and bringing together our rising stars to shape what our agency looks like now and in the future.

What do you love about the industry?

It’s a cliché, but I love the fact that we are constantly evolving. We are reactively and proactively pushing major cultural shifts and trends and it’s incredibly exciting to be at the heart of that. There’s a really exciting opportunity for earned conversation right now and it is more valued than it has been in a really long time.

What do you think are the biggest challenges the industry will face over the next few years?

Earned is our heartland, but because there is such a huge focus through the mix with marketing, PR is going to have to defend its place as the owners of that specialism. From a people perspective, the challenge will continue to be about nurturing and growing talent. It’s about ensuring that work is a place conducive to great creativity and great thought.


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