Donnacha Maguire, MPRII, is the Media and Communications Officer with Plan International Ireland, a global childrens rights organisation. He represents the NGO and the Not-for-Profit sectors on the PRII National Council and is currently serving as Honorary Secretary. Here Donnacha details his career to date and how he sees NGO communications going forward
Despite deciding to study a B.Sc. in Physical Education and Chemistry Teaching in the University of Limerick (UL), I have been working in the area of communications and PR since my teenage years: first as PRO to the Kells Fianna Fáil Councillors’ Group and latterly as PRO of the Meath Handball Board.
Following my time in UL, and the decision to leave teaching to those who are much better at it, my first proper job was with former Fianna Fáil Senator, Maria Corrigan. It was during this first year in Leinster House that my passion and interest in political communications, lobbying and public affairs developed.
After a spell working for then Councillor, and now TD, Niamh Smyth in Cavan, I began the MA in Public Affairs and Political Communications in Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) under the expert leadership of Dr John Gallagher, FPRII (Life). Another stint in Seanad Éireann followed where I interned with Senator Terry Leyden. After the General Election in 2011, I returned to full time political work in Senator Thomas Byrne’s office managing his media and parliamentary activities.
Communications and PR has always been issues -based for me. So when the chance to move into International Development arose, I jumped at it. In 2012, I joined VSO Ireland and began work as their Communications and Marketing Adviser. Spending three years with VSO, getting the chance to visit some of the world’s poorest, and most marginalised, communities has opened my eyes further not only to the power of communications, but also to the long-term importance of communications.
Back in 2010, as John Gallagher was asking me “what do you think public affairs is?” I vaguely, and without knowing its future significance, answered “It’s about giving a voice to those who need a voice and don’t have a voice.”
That’s what I love about working in International Development. I’m getting to communicate about life, death, despair and hope.
That’s why I moved to Plan International Ireland in 2015. To communicate the challenges that are affecting millions of people across the globe to audiences here in Ireland. To do it with compassion, honesty and integrity. Right now, I’m working on the roll out of the next phase of our global movement for change, Because I am a Girl. It’s exciting because it is giving me the chance to link everything I have done in the past into one project: advocacy; PR; and campaigning.
NGO Communications is possibly one of the most difficult, yet rewarding sectors of the communications profession. Limited or no budgets, limited or no interest from editors in our day to day work (the only time I get chased by journalists is when an earthquake hits) and a highly sceptical public.
Equally, it’s incredibly rewarding. I’ve learned and done things that I’d never have had a chance to do or learn if I had stayed in politics: rolling out a TV campaign and visiting Ethiopia, Rwanda and the Philippines with volunteer doctors or TV celebrities.
Like every sector of the PR business, communicating our impact is crucial in the NGO sector. Spending other people’s money, be it taxpayers, corporate donors or private citizens, means there is a healthy scepticism of PR and communications. That makes the role of communications professionals even more important.
Within the NGO communications world, we need to find new, better ways of measuring the impact of PR and media. We can’t rely on the same metrics as the private sector because what we do is so very different. Over the remainder of my term, I hope I can add to this discussion.