DUBLIN — Tens of thousands of Irish people are leaving their debt-shattered land because they can't find work. But one frustrated job hunter, 26-year-old Feilim Mac An Iomaire, has refused — and captured the nation's imagination with an inventive PR stunt that highlights his plight.
"SAVE ME FROM EMIGRATION," reads Mac An Iomaire's billboard in the heart of Dublin, the focal point for a novel social media-driven campaign that advertises his 10-month search for work and desire to stay in Ireland.
The effort has cost him about €2,000 ($2,800) — and given him a priceless global spotlight for his skills as a marketer and dealmaker.
Barely two days after rebranding himself as an Irish everyman named "Jobless Paddy," Mac An Iomaire (mac un-O-mora) appears certain to have achieved his goal of landing a good job, most likely in Dublin, by the end of the month.
Between seemingly endless calls, tweets and Facebook posts from well-wishers and tipsters, the commerce and marketing graduate of National University of Ireland at Galway put on his best jacket Thursday for the first of potentially dozens of job interviews in the coming few weeks. He declined to identify any of his sudden suitors but said he hoped to be in a position to pick and choose.
"I couldn't have imagined the effect my campaign has had. I expected to get maybe 10 offers and, hopefully, someone would really want me. But I'm just overwhelmed now," Mac An Iomaire said before his first job interview.
Mac An Iomaire returned to Ireland in August 2010, full of optimism, after working for a year in Australia as a travel agent and events coordinator in a Sydney hostel. He had a few thousand euros (dollars) set aside as he started a conventional job search in marketing.
More than 100 applications yielded only two inconclusive job interviews last year, a typical experience in a country suffering nearly 15 percent unemployment and experiencing its biggest wave of emigration since the 1980s. More than 50,000 people, mostly 20-something university graduates like Mac An Iomaire, are forecast to leave this nation of 4.5 million by the end of the year.
But while staying in his parents' home and living off state welfare of €188 ($269) a week, Mac An Iomaire's frustration turned to inspiration: If he couldn't land a job as a marketer, he'd showcase his marketing skills to land a job.
"I felt I needed to use a billboard to get my cause out there. Then I wanted to drive interest through the power of social media, so I was quick to set up Twitter and Facebook pages, and got tweeting my friends and posting right away," Mac An Iomaire said.
In early April he got to work. He purchased stock photos from an Indonesian company, persuaded freelance graphic designers and photographers to offer him cut-rate creative help, and negotiated a bargain deal from a major ad agency for a lone billboard slot.
The result is an advertising icon for Ireland's economic freefall from Celtic Tiger boomland to the brink of national bankruptcy.
It pictures Mac An Iomaire — his back to the camera, a suitcase in one hand and a Gaelic hurling stick in the other — staring across the ocean at a vista of the Statue of Liberty, British Houses of Parliament, Sydney Opera House and Toronto's CN Tower.
Beneath the slogan seeking salvation from emigration, the viewer is implored to request more information and a resume from Mac An Iomaire's email account.
The billboard, placed strategically on Merrion Road — Dublin's answer to Beverly Hills — piqued Irish media interest and set the Internet alight.
Mac An Iomaire has appeared on Ireland's national TV and top radio stations and received more than 100 requests from Irish companies seeking his credentials. More than a dozen job-hunting threads on Ireland's biggest Internet chat room, boards.ie, are debating the merits of his media-savvy gambit.
Evening commuters slow down to catch the ad that everyone's talking about.
"That's a work of genius. Exactly the kind of brains we need to keep in Ireland. There's an army of out-of-work Paddies, but only one Jobless Paddy," said accountant David Daly, 39, one of scores of passing motorists who stopped to photograph the billboard.
"It's so professional, it makes you want to find out who's behind it," said Maire Quinn, 32, a Dublin secretary who recently suffered a pay cut and reduced hours, snapping a photo of the billboard on her cell phone. "And then when you hear his back story, it just screams out for him to get hired somewhere quick. He's got guts."
Mac An Iomaire acknowledges his pitch was calculated, in part, to appeal to Ireland's hurt pride as a nation. He included the Gaelic hurling stick because it's an obvious symbol of nationalism for any Irishman; he personally hasn't played hurling since he was around 12.
"I do not adhere to the almost universal consensus that any young unemployed person must leave the country to have any hope of prospering," reads his Facebook manifesto. "Experience overseas has led me to a greater appreciation of our country, culture, and way of life. I would like to stay and be part of this country's recovery, so please spread the word."
They are. Within two days of its launch, his Facebook campaign account has jumped from a dozen followers to more than 5,600. The Twitter feed proved less popular but particularly useful in chatting directly to potential employers.
Mac An Iomaire marvels at the rapid reach and response to his social-media effort, with messages of support pouring in from Cork to Rio de Janeiro. So have job tips and offers, raising the question of whether he might ultimately choose to emigrate anyway because he gets an offer he can't refuse.
"I just love this country. Being away for a year in Australia really brought home to me how special Ireland is, what a massive village it is," he said. "This is my home. If I had to leave again, it would be with a heavy heart."
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