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Sarah O'Connor

Sarah O' ConnorHead of Sport at Wilson Hartnell       

I am Head of Sport in Wilson Hartnell - one of Ireland’s top public relations and communications companies.

The sports practice at WH deals with all aspects of sports-related communications, be it in sponsorship from strategy to activation, media relations, fan engagement and increasingly sports related content creation. We work with brands who wish to engage their customers through sport, sports businesses as well as individual athletes and sports governing bodies.

Irish Sports Federation

Prior to my current role, I was Chief Executive of the Irish Sports Federation for over eight years. This was a marvellous experience, during a time of rapid growth and development for the organisation which saw the Federation transform from start up to established stakeholder in Irish Sport.

My training as a solicitor despite the variety of roles has been the cornerstone. I still regularly rely on the skills I learnt whilst training and working in Arthur Cox. I loved my time there. I did however always have a passion for sport and in 2006 I was approached about the Federation of Irish Sports and about taking on the Chief Executive role there. I decided with a degree of naivety to take the leap of faith and I haven’t looked back just yet!

One of my first projects in the Federation of Irish Sport was to establish ‘Just Sport Ireland’. This was an independent dispute resolution service. Setting up this quasi-legal initiative provided a nice transition for me - from the practice of law into a more varied and commercial role.

As my role developed in the Federation, I was centrally involved in growing revenues, raising sponsorship, promoting Irish sport and in lobbying. My staff and I founded and organised events including an Annual Conference, the Irish Sports Industry Awards as well as training and other initiatives aimed at fostering collaboration amongst sport organisations.

Profiling the true contribution sport makes to Ireland was a key objective. We set up Ireland’s first ever multi-sport public affairs campaign ‘Why Irish Sport Matters?’ involving all 100 member organisations of the Federation detailing for the first time the importance of sport to Ireland’s economy, to health, community life and indeed, Ireland’s reputation which at the time was experiencing some turbulence.

Wilson Hartnell

I joined Wilson Hartnell in 2015 as Head of Sports Marketing and Sponsorship and have been working since with clients such as AIB, Electric Ireland, An Post, Adidas, Elverys not to mention a few of my former Federation members Cycling Ireland and Swim Ireland.

Everything we do at WH is underpinned and driven by our innate insight and knowledge of sport not just the activity but the significance and meaning sport continues to play in the lives of many. It is said that sponsorship is a privilege in that it allows companies to talk to consumers around something they are passionate about. For me it is an immense privilege to work in sport with a team who are committed to the work we do as a result of this shared passion.

It is incredible to see the transformation that the combined impact of mobile technology and social media are having on the sports industry. Content creation for digital platforms is now a key channel for companies to have meaningful conversations with their consumers.  Increasingly we are also seeing sports businesses and organisations as well as athletes, teams and leagues invest in these channels.


I have served on a number of Board of Directors in recent years and taking on directorships is something that I recommend solicitors to consider doing. It is a fantastic way to learn from professionals from other backgrounds and sectors whilst hopefully making a difference! I am chairperson of Boardmatch Ireland which is a corporate governance charity that places professionals on the boards of not-for-profits. I have served on the board for 5 years and that experience along with my solicitors training are the two things that have and continue to have significant impact on my day to day work.

Other Stories

For other career success stories, see Career Spotlight.