Case Study: Ciaran Byrne, Martha Kearns, StoryLab Content and PR Agency, Sligo

In our latest case study, we speak to Ciaran Byrne and Martha Kearns, of Storylab PR and Content Agency in Sligo, about opening up an office in the West of Ireland and the unique opportunities and quality of life which he and his family enjoy here.

Tell us about StoryLab

StoryLab is a content and PR agency rooted in the culture of quality journalism. It helps businesses craft interesting stories in different formats, build profile and shape their plans for digital content. The agency, with offices in Sligo and Dublin, is run by former senior national newspaper executives, Ciaran Byrne and Martha Kearns.

Why are you located in the West of Ireland?

We left our hectic newspaper roles in Dublin, bringing our young family to settle in the North West. We have found a vibrant business market where there are many small and large companies and organisations looking to improve their communications and profile. They need access to the level of communications, PR and senior-level media expertise that is usually concentrated in Dublin

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When did you start your business and what inspired you to do this?

The rapidly changing media world, which we were part of, inspired our decision. StoryLab has been operation since February 2014 and we are based at the Innovation Centre in IT Sligo, a centre that houses 24 companies in different stages of development. We came to Sligo after realising our skills were highly mobile and that the centre offered a unique opportunity with different supports to develop the business. The huge explosion in media and content needs for businesses inspired us to take the leap – after we realised the core skills of storytelling and editing were highly marketable. Social media has forced huge changes in the need to tell better stories and that is something businesses really struggle with. We are able to bring a journalist’s eye to the story, not a marketing or advertising perspective which can suffocate an authentic story.

What were your start-up costs? How did you get the money, and what did you use it for?

We started the business with a single laptop and a new website to where we are now as a fully-staffed modern office. Thankfully as we are providing a service largely based on our knowledge, our startup costs were minimal. We were able to set-up shop and chase our first customers almost immediately. We took part in the New Frontiers programme from Enterprise Ireland, administered at IT Sligo. It was key, giving us hugely valuable insights into business and running a business from the perspective of experts.

Where is your market? How have you targeted international markets?

Our market is in several areas; our content customers come form across Ireland, the United States and Britain, anywhere where English-language businesses need help with their stories. We reach out to them as part of a marketing strategy that includes social media. Word of mouth is also important – we have joined several networks that promote and list international content providers such as our company, showcasing examples of our work. We have produced content for Facebook in New York.

How do you recruit and retain a talented team?

We took on our first permanent employee in March 2016. We were lucky in that we attracted a lot of high calibre people to the role. We look for people that share the same professional attitude and approach to our work and who are open to training and further development.

How did you learn and acquire the skills you use to make your business successful?

We spent more than two decades working for newspapers in a variety of roles from reporting, writing and editing to management and executive positions. Those included running big newsrooms and large teams of people in a fast-paced, pressurised environment, as well as being responsible for large budgets. All very useful experiences when it came to starting out ourselves. We are lucky that journalism careers with trusted media brands such as The Sunday Times, The Observer, Irish Independent and Sunday Business Post help clients to make their decision to go with us a little easier.

How do you continue to grow and learn?

We are constantly observing and learning from others, noting what our competitors do, spotting emerging media trends and keeping up to date with what matters. But it’s also important to trust your instincts and be confident enough to believe in your own core skills. Some trends can appear and disappear overnight.

How do you promote your business?

We have a marketing plan – we network, we promote ourselves on several social media channels. We also accept any speaking opportunities from people who wish to know more about what we do. From time to time we appear in articles about media or marketing.

If you had it to do over again, what, if anything, would you do differently?
Nothing really!

What do you love most about being your own boss? What are the drawbacks?

Ok, so you’re no longer ‘working for the man’ which means you can jump in the car and hit the beach if you wish. The drawback is that can be a rare enough event! What we love most is the freedom to make decisions, change direction, work with people we like and generally control our own destiny. Creating the first additional job in our team was hugely satisfying. Downsides? Everything is on your shoulders – your accounts, taxes, employees, bills and chasing payments from customers. You need a solid process in place!

What should happen in the West of Ireland to encourage further entrepreneurship?

Some people say Rural Ireland is in decline. We say the opposite, it has a bright future. Government, however, needs to change the balance and give the West infrastructure and investment. Roads are key – just imagine if people could drive from Donegal to Cork on a motorway? In the short-term, a decent road between Sligo and Dublin would help along with a proper inter-city train that takes two hours or less. Connectivity is everything. I include broadband in that – so many new businesses would launch and flourish if the West had completely mapped fibre coverage. Build it and they will come. Media coverage of business outside of Dublin is also critical and the Dublin-centric focus on business is slowly changing. If the story is good enough, they will cover it.

What advice would you give to anybody thinking about a life in the West?

Living costs in Dublin are insane. The West is not only affordable, it has the kind of space and beauty that is easy to forget about when you are busy rushing around an expensive city. It’s a perfect fit for young families and almost everywhere has affordable housing. There are good schools and great people and a business culture that thrives with a range of different supports to help you get off the ground. What are you waiting for?

For more information on StoryLab visit storylab.ie and follow @StoryLabIRL

{Image Credit: James Connolly, Picsell8}