Fueling Success With Passion

By Agnes Bao

It’s three o’clock in the morning, the time that is supposed to be quiet and calm. For Brian O’Connor, it’s the time frequently filled with chaos and stress. It’s the time that his phone might ring with an emergent situation from his job, or – in other words – his beloved career.

“If something happens, in certain incidents, my phone will ring at three o’clock in the morning,” O’Connor, vice president of public relations for Princess Cruises, said. Princess Cruises ships are sailing all over the world in different time zones.

While most people hope not to get phone calls in the middle of night, O’Connor is always ready for it. Instead of saying the phone call is from his job, he describes it as a career calling, which he says he is excited about.

“I’ve never looked at it as a job,” says O’Connor. “I think a job is boring and kind of a routine.”

For someone who is always passionate about what he is doing, how could O’Connor take his job as a “job?”

One part of O’Connor’s job involves a great amount of writing works, which is exactly the part he loves most. “I love the ability to shape the narrative,” O’Connor said.

As the passion of storytelling always holds a special place in O’Connor’s heart, he seized every opportunity to write stories for Princess Cruises.

One of the stories that Brian is most proud of is about a heartwarming reunion between a family and their pet bird – the family lost their pet bird when they were cruising on another brand’s ship and a crew of Princess Cruises found the lost bird on his ship and cared for it until the family returned.

Instead of just saying the reunion was a blessing, O’Connor crafted the narrative into an article not only telling the heartwarming reunion but connecting it with Princess Cruises’ hospitality service. As a result, the article was picked up by media all over the world immediately after the release.

But O’Connor wasn’t surprised by the result, he knew it would play well. “It’s kind of what we call heartwarming. It feels good. It’s a nice story to hear,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor’s interest in creative writing was developed back when he was a student at MSU. His major, however, was in telecommunications, which focused on the technical aspect of communication rather than the creative.

“I took writing courses and advertising courses, so I was able to select some creative aspects as well as the technical,” says O’Connor.

After graduation in 1991, O’Connor moved to California to launch his brand-new career, and his life. The degree and skills he gained from MSU first took him to a brand management position at the headquarters of the Hilton Hotel in California, and then creative management at Disney.

Years later, O’Connor started his first PR position at the iconic Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California. There he was accountable for managing more than 125 events annually, ranging from galas and fundraisers to award shows and press events.

O’Connor was expanding his life and pursuits in a mix of directions up until six years ago. Since then, he primary focuses on PR and communications at Princess Cruises.

Throughout the course of O’Connor’s career, he wishes he would have known about the relationship between “strategy” and “tactics” before graduation.

“When you get into the real world and it comes to communication, everything we do is driven by a strategy and then tactics to fulfill that strategy,” says O’Connor.

“If students can gain a solid understanding of what strategy is, how important it is, and then all the tactics that help fulfill that strategy, they are going to be steps ahead when they enter the real world,” O’Connor said.

The idea also can be applied to crisis communication. “I don’t know anybody who set out to be an expert at crisis,” O’Connor said. “You become an expert in crisis by practicing it, or at least by taking steps to prepare for it.”

Since Princess Cruises is a safe operator, there is not much crisis communication that O’Connor needs to deal with. However, there are lots of external communication opportunities that call him to fly across continents and time zones.

“It can be a little challenging, but thankfully I have a very understanding family that fully supports me,” says O’Connor.

As an MSU Alumni Association member and a native of St. Johns, Michigan, O’Connor comes back from California twice a year. When he is back, he enjoys engaging with MSU students, reuniting with his family, and more importantly, going to Crunchy’s, a restaurant in East Lansing, to get one of his favorite hamburgers.

Unlike Michigan’s freezing winter with limited sunny days, California has year-round sunshine, just like O’Connor’s passion for his career — enthusiastic and persistent. Even at three o’clock in the morning.