PR man from Donegal finds living in Vancouver is his dream come true
Previous experience in Canada is a must for senior positions
Connell Kennedy: “networking counts for a lot in Vancouver; it’s important that you go to certain events”
Connell Kennedy is unabashedly enthusiastic about the charms of living in Vancouver, an understandable trait for someone who takes a professional as well as personal interest in the delights of his adopted city.
Kennedy is an account director for Immedia PR, a Canadian PR company with operations in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto.
As well as overseeing the company’s operations in British Colombia, Kennedy’s role is to promote Canada as a year-round tourist destination, a task that seems well within his reach as he talks of how he achieved his long-held desire to live in Vancouver.
“I did a J1 and went backpacking at the end of the trip. I came to Vancouver and it had a backdrop like no other city, which struck me.
“I knew I had to come back here to live one day. I saw it as a tourist in winter which was a great sign because if you like it in the rain and the cold it means you connect with it.”
Kennedy is responsible for publicising Vancouver’s highlights such as Granville Island, which he calls the “cultural and entertainment heart of the city”, as well as for promoting Canada as a whole to key markets such as the United States, Australia, Brazil and China.
The introduction of direct flights between Dublin and Toronto means that there is also a renewed focus on the Irish tourism sector.
Canada isn’t Kennedy’s first foray abroad. From 2009 to 2012 he worked for a PR agency in New Zealand where his responsibilities included the rebrand of Brancott Estate wines and promotion of the New Zealander of the Year award.
However, he says the scale of the Canadian market presents a different challenge.
“There’s a four-hour time difference from coast to coast. You’re on the edge of a much bigger market, so there is more competition to get your story out there. You have to be more competitive to break through.”
He studied at the Smurfit School of Business at UCD before landing a graduate job doing marketing for a bank.
However, he found it wasn’t for him.
“I was in my 20s and marketing mortgages and pension plans, I couldn’t relate,” he says.
Having decided he wanted a job that incorporated his passion for travel and music, he began working for a UK-based music-management company. It was through dealing with the media that he realised where his talents lay, and Kennedy returned to college to study PR with the Public Relations Institute of Ireland.
By 2008 he was working for the PR agency responsible for promoting the Irish Times Sportswoman of the Year award. That year the award went to Katie Taylor. Kennedy looked after media relations for the up and coming boxer.
“It was the first time she had been winning European and World championships, and she was starting to get more recognition. I was responsible for setting up her first TV interviews.
“In 2008 a lot of people didn’t know who she was. By 2012 everyone knew who she was, and it was interesting seeing her on media around the world and remembering four years before coaching her for Ireland AM.”
In the meantime Kennedy had spent three years in New Zealand, returning to Ireland in 2012 look after the family business while his father was recovering from an illness. Last year he decided to take the plunge and move to Vancouver.
“It was now or never. I didn’t have a job, I took a leap and it’s very different from going to New Zealand. There I didn’t have to change the CV that I would have issued in Ireland. Here you need to Canadianise yourself and it’s a very competitive job market.”
One key difference, he says, is that social activities and the volunteering experience count for as much as academic qualifications on your resumé.
Previous experience in Canada is also a must for senior positions, which presents a problem for new immigrants. Kennedy’s solution was networking.
“Networking counts for a lot in Vancouver; it’s important that you go to certain events.
“In PR it’s so interpersonal that they have to meet you. I got a contract through networking and then, once I had Canadian experience, it was easier.”
For someone who has dreamt of living and working in Vancouver for so long, how does the reality compare?
“It’s hasn’t disappointed. It’s a vibrant city with so much on offer. You never get tired of the beauty.”