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What I’ve Learnt: Oonagh Barrington, MD, Transatlantic


Oonagh Barrington has recently taken up the position of MD at Transatlantic, having joined as Freelance PR Director in August 2019.


Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

My morning is pretty chaotic – trying to get a toddler up, dressed, fed and out the door to nursery at a decent hour when all he wants to do is watch CBeebies can be quite difficult. So as soon as he and my husband are out the door, I do a quick tidy up of the house.

We don’t have an office – I work from our kitchen-diner and I can’t focus on anything if the space around me isn’t at least a little bit tidy. Then I start my daily lists. There’s normally around four of them – urgent work, non-urgent work, house stuff, and life admin.

What’s been your luckiest break?

Being introduced to Transatlantic at just the right time in my career. When I joined as an ad-hoc freelancer in August 2019, there was a handful of interesting startup clients, mostly London-based. Not only were we lucky enough to weather the pandemic, but we’ve significantly grown during that time.

We now have about 17 clients nationwide, including some which have grown far beyond startup stage such as sharing app OLIO and will writer Farewill, plus a team of over 20 expert remote freelancers across the country.

What’s your best failure?

PR-wise, I’ve had some disasters! But they’ve made me so much stronger. I’ve had some photo stunts that totally bombed, media events where nobody turned up, campaigns that backfired – everything really.

I like to talk about them at dinner parties because I cry laughing thinking of how far I’ve come. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some absolutely amazing career highs – but I think the best PRs mostly remember the ones that ended with you biting your nails in the toilets, waiting for your boss to come and find you and explain what on earth has happened, all the while a fellow colleague is repeating in your ear “this is PR not ER, PR not ER”.

I’m a lot more strategic and cautious these days and PR is a different ball game. It’s not all about achieving that Mail Online hit.

What is the best investment you’ve ever made, either financial or time?

100% time. Actual time to focus on myself, what I want in life, what I need to stay sane and keep my cool. I found going back to work after having my son unbelievably difficult – I truly underestimated how much a full-time job and a baby that never slept would affect my mental health.

Going freelance and giving myself a year to choose the work I did, give myself time out, feel like I had more balance – all of that has made me a much happier, calmer person. I’ve now joined Transatlantic permanently, but I’ve learnt a lot about how to structure my days to ensure work doesn’t take over my home life.

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

‘A Man Called Ove’ by Fredrik Backman. I’d love to put some profound business or industry focused book in here but I adore fiction and go through a couple of books a month. ‘A Man Called Ove’ is so beautiful, I had an excerpt read at my wedding. It’s about a grumpy old Swedish man who loses his wife, then his job but eventually has his life turned around by some noisy and nosy neighbours.

It explains how love is like moving into a new house. When you first move in you can’t believe how amazing it is and that it’s truly yours. As the years go by you start to love the house for all the ways it isn’t perfect – squeaky floorboards, tricky locks, etc. And that’s it, that’s life.

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

For the love of God, try and find some exercise you like. It’s only going to get harder as you get older and unfortunately your current diet of wine and burgers is unsustainable.

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

My boss Gideon. We were introduced through a former colleague and it was an instant connection. He understands that my family is my priority and that I’ll always get the job done but sometimes it may not be between the hours of 9am and 5pm.

He works in a similar way. He has developed my understanding of the tech startup world so much that I can’t imagine working in any other industry. He’s broken down all misconceptions I had about agency life and how much pressure people need to be under to perform. He encourages me to take time out to think creatively, to push back on things when my gut tells me to and he has complete faith in my decisions. It’s made me a better PR and a happier person.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I’m working on an idea for a podcast which breaks down the feelings of shame and embarrassment women have around disastrous sex and one night stands. It aims to make people laugh, help women share stories and realise that every awful sexual encounter is simply part of your journey. Laugh about it, shout about it and cry about it if you want – but never be ashamed.

How will the COVID crisis change work for the better?

I think it will reenergise our local high streets. Not everyone will go back to working in cities and by bringing the services people need closer to them – coffee shops, coworking spaces, restaurants, gyms etc. – our smaller suburbs will see a boom in business and people will feel a lot happier. Less commuting, shopping local, and reengaging with our neighbourhoods during the working week.

What does success look like to you?

Success is a feeling – a feeling that you have the time available to do the things that make you feel calm and content. So time to do your cleaning and washing, do a good job at work, pick up your son at a decent time and have a nice conversation with your husband. It’s the little things.

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