A converted apple cool store in Moonah may be a long way from the coastal towns of southern Dublin, but for Irish lass Jen Murnaghan, it feels like home. “The sea’s important to Dubliners, and I’m no exception. Growing up, we lived within walking distance to Dublin Bay and I spent all my teenage years sailing. It was a great escape…I’d jump on my bike each morning, ride down to our sailing club and get back about six in the evening. We were on the water all day long…it was a great way to grow up and not dissimilar to what Hobart has to offer.”

As a young woman, that sense of freedom fed Jen’s travelling bug. “It started with the opportunity to experience student exchanges in high school. When I look back, that was a vivid and exciting time to be young and independent. I went to France and Germany, fully immersed in the language and culture for a month at a time,” says Jen. “When it came to my career choices, I knew what I enjoyed doing but didn’t really know what I was good at, nor did I have a clear goal…I just knew I wanted to try different things, so I set about embracing a whole range of opportunities, which as it turned out, ended up being in a whole range of locations!”

From teaching sailing in Manhattan to working for the European Commission in media, Jen’s early roles gave her interesting tastes of what life had to offer. “After studying English and Art History at University College Dublin, I was drawn to a few different things. I loved art…was interested in architecture…considered journalism for a while… For me it was just about trying things out, and equally about making sure I was doing something different to my older sister. We Irish love to compare,” she grins. “I was never one with a defined path but was always fiercely independent and I wanted to forge my own way.”

“In my early twenties I tried working as an English language teacher in France. That just didn’t feel right, so I spent some time with a friend who was studying in Budapest. That was great…I remember seeing my first snowflake and standing admiring its perfect form…it was just like I always imagined. Budapest is a beautiful city steeped in history and with an energetic university at the centre of it. I loved seeing what all the postgrads were doing.” Back in Dublin, Jen gained experience in a variety of roles from mural painter through to a stylist on an Irish interior design television show. Jen says, “I didn’t know what I was good at so I just jumped in and gave everything a go.”

Jen Murnaghan from Digital Dandy walking along a path

It turned out that her future lay further afield. Jen joined the growing trend to travel to Australia. “A few people I knew had moved to Sydney and I thought it sounded great. Within 48 hours of landing there, I knew this was it for me,” she recalls enthusiastically. “I actually felt a physical connection to Australia, it was weird but I’ll never forget the feeling.”

Those early days certainly made an impact. “I lay on a beach for six weeks…ate fruit salad, drank cocktails and got an amazing tan,” she laughs. “And I remember getting my feet burnt at Bondi by the brilliantly hot sand.” Then reality set in, “I ran out of money and had to find a job, so I talked my way into some bar work at a local hotel. The chef/owner turned out to be my future husband.”

As a young couple, Vinnie and Jen embraced their busy Sydney lifestyle. “I worked in media for the Olympic Games,” recalls Jen. “It didn’t turn out to be quite as exciting as I had hoped as the media centre was located a long way from the action, but at the end of the day it was all a great experience and I still stay in touch with the people I worked with there.”

Jen started to find her groove when, after completing three years of study in interior design, she landed a role at a screen printing business that specialised in fashion brands. “The experience I had at Signature Prints was fantastic. It was right at the time the new owners had acquired the Florence Broadhurst collection. She was a very talented Australian wallpaper and fabric designer who was tragically murdered in her studio in 1977…her death still remains a mystery today…but to see the rebirth of her collection and be involved in the start-up phase which set up collaborations with the likes of Kate Spade was truly an amazing thing to be a part of.”

The joy she found in fabrics sparked a move to interior fabric wholesaler Mokum Textiles, one that proved an important step in Jen’s career. “I’m grateful that they saw something in me and really gave me a chance,” she says. “I was there for six years, initially as an assistant to the design director, and then later as a studio merchandiser and international brand manager. There were constantly new collections being released and I worked closely with a range of interior designers, stylists and journalists. It was a wonderful opportunity to hone my skills in everything from PR and copywriting through to brand development and strategic marketing. I was also privileged to edit their company magazine and oversee digital growth, right at the time online marketing was really coming into play. Things were getting really exciting and I was constantly learning.”

Jen Murnaghan from Digital Dandy reading a book at the table

Life interrupted Jen’s career trajectory when she fell pregnant. “That was a wonderful, but busy time for us,” Jen reminisces. “Before I knew it, we had two little boys in a small Sydney apartment…you can imagine the challenges that presented. Vinnie and I both agreed that we wanted space for them to grow and run around, and family living quickly became a priority for us. Together we made the decision to move back to Dublin…it offered family support and memories of my own wonderful childhood.”

Decision made and with bags all but packed, the couple was thrown a curve ball in the form of the global financial crisis. “We’d bought the tickets and all of a sudden everyone was saying ‘don’t come back here…there’s nothing here for your future…it will be a mistake’. It was a really hard period, and we didn’t know what to do.” The emotion of that time is easily relived as Jen remembers the angst they faced as young parents searching for a home to raise their precious family. “In the end we just went to Dublin for a visit. That moment of turning around to come back to Australia and leaving family support behind was extremely difficult for me…the kids were so small and I loved being back with family around us. But we made the decision in the best interests of our own little family.”

“Wondering what on earth to do next, I did what I do well, and spoke to lots of people,” smiles Jen. “The overwhelming consensus was ‘if you’ve got kids, go to Tassie.’ It was really as simple as that…we didn’t want to go north to the heat, we knew Sydney wasn’t right anymore, and we felt no real connection to Melbourne. Something told us to give Tassie a shot, and so that’s what we did.”

Jen gazes skywards as she thinks about the early days in Hobart some ten years ago. “We couldn’t believe how friendly everyone was. In Sydney, we ended up not knowing anyone else in our own apartment building, but when we arrived here, all the neighbours were very quick to call in and introduce themselves. I remember telling Vinnie about my day very early on, and describing how people kept saying hi to me on the street. ‘Even a school boy said hi to me today, and then someone even carried my groceries to the car!’ I remember telling him,” laughs Jen. “The sense of community here is palpable.”

Whilst her husband found his professional feet quickly, landing a role at Moorilla, now the world renowned Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Jen found things a little harder. “I was going mental!” she says energetically. “Here I was at home with two little boys, I knew no one, and I also had an inkling something wasn’t quite right with my health. I’d suffered a little with anxiety growing up and the stress of the move had flared it up. I found I wasn’t coping with the changes very well.”

By Jen’s own admission, she ignored the signs her body was giving her. “I ploughed on and picked up work as a marketing assistant and bookseller, blogging at the time as an escape from nappies and day to day life as a mum. I wrote a lot about raising young boys. Here I was on an island, isolated and using my writing as a means to connect. On the positive side, the work I did created wonderful connections and helped me build my confidence, but the online projects definitely got my writing to flow…that time allowed me to experiment in the early days of Facebook and threw me nicely into the new online marketing world.”

Not one to shirk a challenge, at the same time Jen was actively growing her brand of unique tea towels, Dish Pig, based on old bus scrolls. “Dish Pig was a celebration of Tasmania and quickly consumed my time, but the real gift it gave me was the tools for social media success. I was working hard and beginning to reap rewards, however my health was suffering at the same time.”

A diagnosis of an underactive thyroid gland was the catalyst for change. “That time was a great lesson in failure, vulnerability and shame,” says Jen. “I finally let go of some things and really lived by the notion that when you hit a storm, know that the sun is always shining on the other side. Leaving your home and making a big move sure makes you learn a lot about yourself.”

Jen Murnaghan from Digital Dandy leaning up against a window

Jen continues, “I had to learn how to work through a lifetime of Irish habits…my Catholic upbringing, being a female and everyday motherhood guilt…well, we often joke about how that can be the holy trinity of judgement and self-loathing! I even had to push myself to learn how to accept a compliment. I had to figure out how to unselfishly make space for my health, both physically and mentally.”

Jen describes how in the end she worked out she wanted to work around her family so she could be there for the kids. “With a husband working long hours, I soon identified what I needed, and wanted: to be there for our boys, to easily make it to school events and be present, to create quality family time…and also to look after my own health.”

Enter 2014 and Digital Dandy. “It was born out of people in my Dish Pig community saying, ‘you’re great at social media, can you help me with mine?’ I thought, ‘well, yeah I think I can’ and that was about it. There were no real overheads, I could do it at any time of the day and it was something I both loved and was pretty good at.”

Jen Murnaghan from Digital Dandy doing social media work

“That time of accepting that I was actually really good at something was pivotal for me,” says Jen. “I’ve now learnt so much about myself and have rid myself of a lot of self-doubt. It’s pretty ironic really as day to day I’m queen bee of lifting others up, just not all that good at doing it for myself.”

Jen started Digital Dandy to draw upon her creative production and digital campaign experience, however it quickly became so much more. “To start with I was very focussed on social media but I’ve since progressed into strategic business development and consulting. I really love teaching and coaching. Showing someone their potential is just so rewarding. I’ve often had people in tears as we explore their passion and work through their challenges and self-doubt. I have a lot of female clients and I notice that women in particular are fearful of self-promotion…we just don’t back ourselves.”

“As my profile has grown in this space, so has my confidence. I’ve noticed that I trust my instincts a lot more and I now really know where I can provide value and be of service. To be able to recognise, and then admit, what I’m actually good at is relatively new to me. As a business owner, there is power in knowing your strengths and also in knowing that you can’t be all things to all people.”

Jen Murnaghan from Digital Dandy standing in front of a brick wall

Whilst Digital Dandy continues to support a wide client base, Jen is further embracing her love of the arts by taking on a 2019 role as Marketing Manager for Festival of Voices. “I’m loving this foray back into the arts,” she grins. “It’s come at a good time as I pause to consider what it means to be a marketer in 2019. We need to remember that social media is still so young and there is so much white noise out there that really needs to go. Socials are also just one element of your marketing plan.”

Tasmanian Festival of Voices program 2019

“The future is about telling real stories and knowing your audience, not just throwing spaghetti at a wall and seeing how much sticks.”

Expanding on her thoughts for the future, Jen continues, “This space is all about people. I’ve realised I love working with individuals and groups and just want to cut through the shit and make a genuine difference. That’s the type of marketing I feel connected to. Good storytellers will do well in the future…those that are real and authentic.”

Jen reflects on her move to the apple isle. “It’s ironic really…we came here looking for a slower life and the opposite has happened. Our careers have certainly flourished here.” She pauses before continuing, “We have a beautiful home with amazing river and mountain views, and that came at an affordable price compared to Sydney. We share our garden with bandicoots and wallabies but can walk to the city in 15 minutes…and the school community has been wonderful. We feel accepted here and everything has merged at just the right time.”

Jen Murnaghan from Digital Dandy sitting on a bench

You can find out more about Digital Dandy via Jen’s website, or connect on Instagram and Facebook.