At which time do you wake up in the morning?
I wake up around 7am. I set an alarm for 7:15am, but my body clock always seems to do the job for me. When the alarm goes off I know it’s time to get up.
What is the first thing you do?
I try to get some morning light. I listen to the Andrew Huberman podcast, so I’ve learned how important light is in setting the circadian rhythms. I do a little morning exercise – nothing strenuous, just a way to stretch and get the blood pumping while I wait for the kettle to boil. I make a quick cup of black coffee and then I’m ready to work.
Which news sites do you read (if any) in the morning?
I listen to the FT News Briefing podcast, a quick 5-10 minutes while I’m doing the rest of my morning routine. Once I start working I try to avoid the news. My work usually isn’t news-sensitive so it would be a distraction.
At which time do you go into the office (or start working remotely)?
I’m usually at my desk by 8am as I work mostly from home. Since the pandemic we’ve leaned into remote working which suits me well. I’m based in Ireland, and my typical client is either the ‘head of public affairs’ for a large company, or a secretary general of a trade association. HQs are located all over the world, so remote working allows me to easily jump from Brussels to DC. Of course times vary if I’m doing work on-site with a client, or if I’m attending an event.
How many times a day do you check emails?
I usually process emails three times a day. Once in the morning, once after lunch and once towards the end of the day. I tend to respond more frequently though to messages on LinkedIn.
When is your first meeting?
My first meeting is usually 9am. I like to schedule my meetings for the morning, and leave my afternoons as free as possible for project work. This isn’t always possible though. On any given week I’ll have a meeting or two with colleagues in the US, and I schedule these for later in the day.
How do you plan your meetings across the week?
I aim to have external meetings Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays. I save Mondays and Fridays for internal meetings and ‘firm work’ – but I try to be flexible on this.
What is the split between internal and external meetings?
I would say a 40% (internal) and a 60% (external) split. In any given week I’d have more external meetings, but my internal meetings last longer.
How do you follow news development between meetings?
I like reading Politico, the FT and Bloomberg. I also listen to podcasts, which are often more reflective and zoom out to the wider issues. I help clients build stronger public affairs functions and I run workshops to help teams develop public affairs strategy, so it’s quite different to other PA professionals who may be engaged in crisis communication.
How do you organize your calendar?
Mondays and Fridays are internal meetings and ‘firm work’, while Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays are external meetings and client delivery. Firm work includes marketing, business development, finance, and general admin. We also do quarterly marketing, finance and strategy reviews to keep everything on track. Routines are important. As Aristotle said ‘we are what we repeatedly do’.
How do you take notes?
I use Microsoft OneNote for all my notes. This way I keep them centralised and accessible. I type into OneNote during meetings, and if I’m out and about I can access and add to my notes on my phone.
What is your relationship to Excel?
I manage our firm’s finances, so excel is part of that. Excel can also be useful for stakeholders, but overall, I spend much more of my time on Word.
What is your favorite app & why?
LinkedIn. I serve the public affairs community and LinkedIn is a great way to stay connected. I love to see how PA pros represent their interests – through thought leadership, committee meetings, site visits, stakeholder events and campaigns. It’s a great way to see what works, and what resonates with wider policy communities. LinkedIn is also developing as a space for PA pros to come together to share and discuss best practice techniques, and this I love to see.
How many external lunches do you have a week?
Zero. I intermittent fast until after 3pm and most of my meetings are virtual anyway. I’ve also never liked eating while I try to work, although a coffee can be nice.
Where do you keep up to date on Public Affairs?
Politico’s newsletter – EU Influence (by Sarah Wheaton) and London Influence (by Matt Honeycombe-Foster). The SuperLobby Community newsletter (by Milos Labovic and Shannon van Schaeck Mathon). Podcasts – The Persuaders Podcast (by the one and only Anders Kopp Jensen), The Political Life (by Jim O’Brien) and Pluxcast (by Patrick Keating and Connor Allen). Not to mention PA pros who consistently blog about best practice – Aaron McLoughlin, Alan Hardacre, Stuart Thomson, Maria Linkova-Nijs, Tim Werkhoven and Lucie L’Hopital Million.
What is your best tip for managing work/life balance?
Exercise and drink water. Listen to your body and you’ll know when it’s time to rest. I also have a life philosophy which I like to think keeps me balanced – ‘learn from the past, live in the present and look to the future.’
What do you do to unwind?
I try to go for a walk each day, and I usually listen to podcasts while I’m out. I also follow sport. My teams are Leinster (rugby), Ferrari (F1) and the Washington Commanders (NFL). I like to keep in touch with friends and I try not to take life too seriously. It’s rare I go an hour without laughing about something silly.
How does your desk look?
This depends. Most of the time it’s actually quite tidy. If I need to get work done, tidying my desk before I begin helps me to order my thoughts. But, if I’m feeling creative – books get opened and left everywhere and my browser stops working properly because I have twenty plus tabs open with a whole range of different PDFs.
Do you answer emails on your phone?
No I avoid this. Sometimes I read my emails, but I always prefer to process them on a laptop or desktop.
Name a PA pro in the industry you respect and why
Too many to name them all, because I’ve spoken to many pros who are busy doing quiet work behind the scenes, making sure their organisation’s interests are represented. So instead, let’s go with those I named above. We’re lucky to have a positive and supportive community of PA pros, looking to advance our profession and I’m just happy to play a small part in that.
When you go on vacation, do you still answer emails?
I wish I could answer no to this, but yes I do.
Who is your idol?
I wouldn’t describe him as an idol, but I admire Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum. He’s done a tremendous job is building a platform for stakeholders to come together, to address (or at least begin thinking about addressing) some of the world’s greatest challenges. I also agree with his work on stakeholder capitalism, which is an approach everyone in public affairs should consider.
Which book did you read recently or are you currently reading?
I recently read Systemology by David Jenyns. It outlines how business processes can be developed into a system, and how optimising this system is what leads to consistent results. A structured approach to PA, that uses systems-thinking can help leaders to build the PA function. By focusing on the process and not the outcome – the PA philosophy becomes less about achieving a win on one policy file or the next, and more about building a system that increases your probability of success across all engagement efforts.
Which skills will PA pros need the most in 5-10 year?
People skills. AI will help with policy monitoring and stakeholder analysis. It may even guide public affairs leaders on what tactics to implement next – but ultimately, policy is about people and authentic engagement is what will matter the most. That’s why Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ is, and will always be a timeless classic.
Which time do you go to bed?
I try to aim for midnight, although I tend to be more creative at night and I usually end up going later.
Do you use LinkedIn and/or Twitter for work?
I use both, although my Twitter is just for presence and it usually echoes what I write on LinkedIn. I spoke more about LinkedIn above – but I also use it to publish thought leadership of my own. Tune in every Monday and I’ll have something new to share, that hopefully all PA pros can benefit from.
How big is your PA department?
As I work as a public affairs strategy advisor, we don’t have a PA function. But from my experience, PA functions are kept quite lean and growth comes in stages – using agencies to augment capability, until additional staffing is justified. A cross-functional approach works well so policy experts can be leveraged across markets. What’s also important, is mobilising other internal staff to dedicate 10% or 20%, or even 50% of their time to PA work. This helps to integrate a PA function into an organisation through information flow, helps to communicate the value of PA to other business units and increases the capacity of the PA function without increasing the size of the function itself. I’m proud of the work I do in helping leaders develop a strategy to achieve this kind of internal engagement across an organisation.
Where should the PA function ideally be based in an organization & why?
The flavour of a public affairs function, and where it should be based, always differs on the context of the organisation. Highly regulated industries sit it closer to regulatory affairs and compliance, while big consumer brands tie it more to corporate affairs and communications. Others tie it to business development, depending on the business case. A growing trend is to place it within the CEO’s office or executive function – and I would agree with this, as here it can play a greater role in strategy formulation. Wherever it is, public affairs leaders need to develop as a direct line as possible to the CEO or the executive leadership team. This is what allows the value of the PA function to be appreciated and realised – which in turn, results in the PA function being resourced appropriately.