COUNTDOWN TO #LA2015 IS ON!

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SO Irish Open 2There’s something about the beginning of June that signals bedlam.  Every single year. Anyone that works in PR and marketing will know what I’m talking about and will sympathise, with singed fingers from furious typing.

We work in a business of peaks and troughs and this, folks, is most definitely one of the peaks. It’s probably something to do with that wrapping up for summer mentality that seems to dominate most businesses. Every year, our clients (wonderful that they are), rush to get the lion’s share of their news out in the four weeks leading up to 1st July. It’s bonkers but brilliant fun – there’s never a dull moment at this time of year, that’s for sure.

But while everyone else is dreaming of winding down for the summer, I’m beginning to think about ramping up, for a very special project.

I’m privileged to be joining Team Ireland as a volunteer at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles in July and August.  Having worked with Special Olympics Ireland and Special Olympics Ulster for four years, it’s amazing to be able to give some extra and much-needed support to this great charity in what is a very important year for its athletes.

Some 88 athletes – including 12 from the Ulster region – will travel to compete on a world stage at LA2015. The athletes, who have many different intellectual disabilities, have trained for years for this opportunity, supported by Special Olympics Ireland, its coaches and volunteers.

With the full support of my MCE colleagues, I’ve raised over €5,200 since December to secure my place as a Team Ireland volunteer. It’s been a hell of a challenge but one that the whole team took on with great gusto. From bake sales to pub quizzes, Easter treats and even a marathon, it was a massive team effort and I’ve been blown away by the support of friends, family, clients, colleagues and complete strangers over the last six months.

Working as part of the media team, I will help to tell the story of the inspiring Team Ireland athletes, coaches and volunteers, live from the media centre in Los Angeles. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and one that I’m starting to get very excited about, now that it’s drawing closer.

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Last weekend saw the culmination of one piece of work we’ve been plotting for a number of months now, with Special Olympics Ireland and The European Tour as part of the build up to the World Games.

The Team Ireland golf team were invited as VIP guests of The European at The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation. Getting the opportunity to watch their heroes in action was a dream come true for this group of inspirational athletes and a fantastic boost to their preparations for LA2015.

SO Irish Open 9Jill Connery (aged 29 from Scarva Co. Armagh) and playing partner, Ursula McDonnell (aged 70 from Co. Antrim); Paul Kirrane (aged 29 from Ennis, Co. Clare) and playing partner, Patrick Rutherford (aged 72, from Co. Clare); Rosemary O’Reilly (aged 29 from Co. Meath); Margaret Carr (aged 54 from Calry, Co. Sligo) and Leo O’Brien (aged 19 from Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow) enjoyed an action packed day of golf and star-spotting.

It was absolutely wonderful (and often emotional) watching the athletes as they soaked up the atmosphere at Royal County Down.

Starting off the day on a high, Special Olympics Global Ambassador, Padraig Harrington took time out to meet the athletes ahead of teeing off, providing valuable tips to the team, who travelled from right across Ireland. Since becoming a Special Olympics Global Ambassador in May 2010, Harrington has generously donated his time and expertise to the Special Olympics movement across the world by conducting golf clinics for athletes and coaches.

And, in the biggest surprise of the day, the athletes were put through their paces by Northern Irish golfing great, Graeme McDowell in a putting competition.

It really was a magic day. The generosity and kindness of The European Tour and the professional golfers was so heartening and its impact was profound. These athletes will now continue their preparations for LA2015, feeling the support and friendship of some of the world’s best golfers.

You can watch highlights of the Team Ireland’s golfers’ visit to The Irish Open on the BBC Sport NI website here. You might even spot me in the background, cheering them on…

To find out more about how you can support Team Ireland, check out the great Support an Athlete campaign, or call John Kivlahan at Special Olympics Ulster 028 9023 9023. Keep an eye on the hashtag, #LA2015, @SOIreland and @SO_Ulster on twitter for more World Games updates.

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CIPR NI Puts Focus on Voluntary & Community Sector Communications & PR

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VCS3This afternoon I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with a great group of communications and PR professionals from the voluntary and community sector. Representing a wide range of charities and third sector organisations, these highly motivated and committed individuals were brought together by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) Northern Ireland for an afternoon of networking, alongside a valuable Q&A session with BBC NI’s Tara Mills for an insight into #VCScommsNI.

The sell-out event was the brainchild of my CIPR NI committee colleagues, Leanne Reilly and Sharon Whittaker, who, having joined the CIPR NI committee this year, are keen to bring issues facing communications and PR professionals working in the voluntary and community sector to the fore.

VCS2Aside from fulfilling my duties as the CIPR’s social media officer and live tweeting from the event, I had a genuine interest in the subject matter; we have a number of high profile charity clients at MCE and we face many of the same challenges faced by our peers in the room today. No matter how worthy your story, vying for space and making your story stand out in a crowded charity market can be challenging and requires a particular skill set and contact book.

Networking and sharing experiences with peers has been immensely useful to me personally and professionally over the years and this afternoon’s event was a great example of that collaboration in practice. After brief introductions, the event began with a speed networking session, which encouraged participants to share their experience and tips with each other.

VCS5This was followed by a lively Q&A, with BBC NI’s Tara Mills taking questions from the floor. The frank and open exchange led to a lot of very useful advice and tips being shared on how, when and where to pitch a story. You can follow some of the feedback on the CIPR NI twitter feed.

We have a small but vibrant PR and communications industry in Northern Ireland and by working together we can become so much stronger. The voluntary and community sector represents a large proportion of our industry in this region and through today’s event, Leanne and Sharon, along with our CIPR NI chair, Chris Love, provided a real insight into the ways that CIPR NI membership can aid and assist the promotion of professionalism, as well as the development of individuals and teams working in communications/PR in the third sector. I hope more of our peers in this sector will come forward and engage with CIPR NI, for the benefit of the industry as a whole.

Well done to Leanne and Sharon for a great event – I look forward to the next one!