Conversations with communicators in the #CommsCorner

As part of our research into the world of communication, we speak with communicators from across the globe and ask them to share an insight into their working lives, their inspiration, and their communication heroes.

Explore the catalogue of conversations below.

Conversations with communicators in the #CommsCorner

Explore our catalogue of conversations with communicators from around the world.

Creative caffeine for communicators

Caffeinated Classrooms provide opportunities to build connections and creativity.

In 2020, the Caffeinated Classroom: Beyond the Zoom was hosted by chief communicator Jack Walden and chief collaborator Vanessa O’Hanlon.

Communicators from around the world explored a collection of topics including:

  • Around the World via Zoom with:
    • Hong Kong: Slavica Habjanovic, Communications Manager Asia, Hassell
    • France: Michael Short, journalist, academic and communicator
    • USA: Murray Nossel, Founder and Director, Narativ
    • New Zealand: Anna Dean, Co-Director, Double Denim
  • Communication lessons from the 2020 US presidential campaign with Emmy Award Winning Journalist, Sara James
  • Unlocking the power of the Zoom studio with Australia’s Queen of Travel, Catriona Rowntree
  • Caption and release: The state of social media in 2020 with Award-winning social media educator, Dr Karen Sutherland
  • Communication challenge with Good on You Co-Founder, Sandra Capponi

The day also included C-word challenges.

The rise of the Zoom studio

Zoom has become the new TV studio. Like so many companies and individuals around the world, we have been using Zoom to develop content for our clients. A few weeks back, we helped TV presenter Vanessa O’Hanlon take her first steps into the live Zoom studio as a guest on Journey’s to Come’s Live with Catriona.. Today she shares her experiences and looks at the rise of the Zoom studio.

I recently made the enormous leap into the virtual world of everybody’s new favourite online trend, Zoom. Okay, I admit I am not a complete novice after all I have been part of the odd virtual happy hour and a birthday celebration or 2 but this was the real deal, live streaming straight to Facebook.

It didn’t take long to understand why this technology is quickly finding its own space in what may already seem like a crowded online arena. Although YouTube has been a leader in the digital video world for a long time, Zoom allows us to create conversational content in a relaxed environment with anybody, at anytime, anywhere around the world. A useful tool as the prospect of international travel still remains up in the air.

Perhaps the greatest asset of this kind of digital technology is it allows us to not only hold a meeting or conversation, but it has the capability to record, download and post. As I learned from a candid chat with TV Presenter and author Catriona Rowntree, it is a new organic way of conducting and hosting a video from two different states. Perhaps the biggest lesson I took from this journey is how it allows a conversation to flow in an engaging and organic way, cutting through an environment that is usually hyped with entertainment and noise.

Brands are now using it as a way to connect and engage with clients through creatively styled virtual launch parties. A leading example is Marc Jacobs Fragrances, by reimaging the space, the company gave its well-dressed clientele the chance to watch a musical performance, get their portrait done and have their photo taken by a fashion photographer – all from the comfort of their lounge rooms.

Sara James an Emmy award winning journalist and author from the United States now residing in Australia, has virtually set up her on chat show, interviewing and hosting conversations relevant to her field of expertise, U.S Politics. Allowing her to freely engage overseas talent and keeping her connected to what is happening back in her homeland.

In a time when the arts have really struggled to find a platform, it’s allowed creatives to come together, reunite and perform for a much wider audience. For Australian Band Powderfinger, a Zoom catch-up was the starting point for a live streamed concert, “The One Night Lonely” via YouTube, attracting more than half a million views and raising almost $500,000 for charities supporting the music and arts industries affected by covid.

Theatre companies have also turned to Zoom to create virtual performances like the virtual plays coming out of Auckland.

While the word Zoom has become synonymous with the business world of meetings, it’s the meteoric rise in the creative space that will see this technology escalate into 2021 and beyond.

How Covid has shaped the language of 2020

The language we use shifts a little every year. Never more so than during great times of change, like war, or say, a global pandemic.

Politicians now address us on a daily basis, rarely missing the opportunity to talk about the ‘new normal’.

As the pandemic first spread across the globe with more momentum than anyone could have predicted, it became a challenge to find a word more fitting than ‘unprecedented’. These are the times we are living in, and for the sake of history let’s throw in ‘uncharted waters’.

While arguments played out over whether Australia and world should aim for ‘herd immunity’, ‘elimination’ or ‘suppression’, the politicians and media began to craft a new language of Covid.

Here in Australia we quickly adapted to paying extra attention to our own ‘hygiene’. Common phrases such as hand sanitiser, wash your hands, wear a mask, use a bent elbow to sneeze or cough and fist bump quickly entered the everyday phrasebook. We now recite them to each other on a daily, possibly even hourly basis, but probably don’t even realise we are doing it.

And let’s not forget the heady days of ‘panic buying’, ‘stockpiling’, and ‘rationing’. Even ‘toilet paper’ found a new place in history while the ‘supermarket’ became the new social outing.

We easily transitioned to life in lockdown and isolation with the addition of quarantine, hotel and self as we tried desperately to ‘flatten the curve’. Finding new ways to entertain ourselves, the jigsaw puzzle discovered a new wave of popularity while many of us went back to the simplicity of growing indoor plants.

A second wave diminished the hopes of many looking forward to ‘new-found freedom’, no matter how different the new normal looked. New words gained notoriety ‘outbreak’, ‘cluster’ and we will never forget how ‘contact-tracing’ became our ‘key to freedom’ along with ‘Covid-safe’.

Over the past few months we have learnt to live alongside the virus, our humour returning, and in true-blue Aussie fashion we have put our own slant on commonly used words. Dropping letters, using slang to dub the virus ‘rona’ and let’s not forget ‘iso’. While we’re at it, throw in ‘pando’, after all if you don’t laugh, you will cry.

As 2020 draws to an end, and we close a chapter on one of the toughest years in living history, the Macquarie Dictionary’s word of the year will have no shortage of contenders. In what will become known as the year that ‘we are all in this together’, I just hope singer Ben Lee is raking in the royalties, after all he may just be the modern Nostradamus.

Writer’s notebook is a powerful tool

This week in the communicator’s corner we discuss salmon sushi, moral psychology and information overload with Mark Bretherton, the Director of Media at Clean Energy Council.

Your elevator statement – who are you professionally and personally?

Professionally I help to solve complex business problems through clear and convincing communication. Personally I’m a life-long music fan and an enthusiastic amateur across a wide range of subjects.

Tell us about your typical day in communications?

A lot of what I do is focused on the external environment, so I wake up early and get my head around the news cycle and what is in the headlines that day. If something big has broken that affects our industry then I’m off to the races. Otherwise I whip up a daily media bulletin for the Clean Energy Council’s members then get stuck into promoting something good the industry is doing, managing some looming issue, or any number of side projects related to solar, wind, hydro, batteries or new technologies.

When did you first know you wanted to work in communications?

I always wanted to be a writer. I love any writing that glows with its own heat. I remember confidently telling my first boss in some government job that I was going to become a writer. I mean, who the hell did I think I was? I ended up getting a lucky break from a friend who was working at The Courier-Mail in Brisbane. They needed an extra hand in a hurry and I wasn’t going to let an opportunity like that pass by.

Who’s your communication hero/mentor?

Seth Godin. He has a way of making marketing sound like universal truth. That’s no small feat. I love his ideas of integrating honesty and authenticity into marketing, and identifying the smallest possible group of true believers that you need so you can stay true to yourself. I like some of Simon Sinek’s ideas as well.

Which tools can’t you live without?

It’s old-fashioned these days, but I still love a notebook and a ballpoint pen. They don’t run out of battery or go out of mobile range. The writer’s notebook is still a powerful tool, and I feel connected to all the writers that have lived in the generations before me.

What are the biggest challenges in your role?

Where to spend my energy. The clean energy sector has grown massively since I started. At the beginning there were half a dozen issues to manage and they bore down upon you with a force you couldn’t ignore. Over time we have grown in scale and credibility and there are innumerable priorities to manage which vary massively in complexity.

Tell us about the best campaign you’ve ever worked on?

The Clean Energy Council’s campaign to save the Renewable Energy Target (RET) under the Abbott Government was all-consuming. It was a fight we never wanted, but the future of the whole industry was at stake. In the end I had a chance to try out just about every tool, technique and weapon we had in the locker, and the comms side of the campaign worked hand-in-glove with our political advocacy strategy.

The biggest challenge was that the RET doesn’t have much public recognition outside the industry. So when we started it felt like we were the only voice speaking and that the number of people listening was tiny. But day by day it snowballed and, by the end, international publications like the Financial Times had recognised what was going on and were reporting on the implications.

Which campaign do you most admire?

When people think of salmon sushi or sashimi, they immediately think of Japan. But the Japanese used to think salmon was an unclean fish, and the only reason the two are connected is because of a long campaign by the Norwegian salmon industry. And Norwegian salmon ultimately helped sushi to become popular around the world as well. It’s a great example of a vision and persistence leading to a win-win.

What’s been the biggest change to communication/marketing/public relations since you began your career?

Targeted digital campaigns and information overload. The ability to target your audience now is unprecedented, but many people are at the point where they don’t necessarily want to be targeted at all. So we are narrowing our focus to a smaller number of trusted voices and many people are looking for something deeper and more meaningful. The challenge is becoming one of the voices that is worth paying attention to.

If you had to cut/keep something in your communication budget, what would it be?

I’m part of a small team, so being able to bring in occasional contractors to help with surge periods is really important.

What quality do you look for in your communication team members?

Great ideas, great energy and a drive to always try and do things better.

What’s your favourite brand?

The Rolling Stones. They are more brand than band these days, but it’s amazing they have been so successful for so long. I’m also impressed by any brand that is disciplined enough to keep their strategic focus in line with what they do well, rather than giving in to the temptation to do a broad range of things badly.

What book/blog do you think every communicator should read?

I really liked The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. It’s more about moral psychology than communication, but I think more people in comms should study some psych. There’s a lot in there about how people make up their minds about particular subjects and how to reach those with a different political or ideological bent to yours – and the reasons they think differently. Obviously the Cellophane blog is a great read as well!

What tips do you wish you’d known starting out in communications?

Don’t try to do everything yourself.

Finish this sentence: ‘Communication is…’

…almost always imperfect, often under-rated and endlessly fascinating.

Let the games begin

Have you ever raced to answer a question on Facebook? Ever booked a flight just to keep that little plane in your frequent flyer profile flying? Or perhaps you were one of the many Australian households that collected those mini plastic grocery items?

Guilty? So are we! It’s all part of playing the game, or the gamification of life as it’s become.

People love a little friendly competition, which is why gamification has become a common part of marketing, loyalty programs, employee engagement and many more aspects of modern business.

So what is gamification?

While you might assume that gamification is a recent trend, it was actually stems from the community building and coupon-focused advertising created by 1950s Mad Men Howard Luck Gossage.

Gamification is the act of employing lessons from your favourite games (well, game theory in general) to non-game related endeavours.

Whether you’re seeking to improve productivity in your organisation, increase community engagement or change behaviours, think about how you can apply lessons from your favourite game. Monopoly? Guess Who?

Here are some simple ideas to start playing today:

  1. Ask questions of your social media community and feed their desire to be part of the solution
  2. Introduce a rewards component into your next internal communications campaign
  3. Leave breadcrumbs for readers of your e-newsletter or website to find and collect
  4. Add a little game to your next brainstorming session … it’s the perfect idea generator
  5. Add a quiz to your next communications piece, to engage and test people’s understanding.

Let the fun begin!

Cheers, Jack & the c word crew

PS. Even Bill & Melinda love games!

Changing face of the communications profession

The newspaper boxes were (and continue to be) the blogs of yesteryear – providing targeted news in many cases for free with the support of advertising (photo from Harvard Square)

For the past few months, people have been sharing their 10-year images on social media. So, we thought today we’d share some insights from past Communicator’s Corners about how the communications profession has changed over the years.

Daniel Tisch, the President and CEO for Argyle Public Relationshipsin Canada said: “When I started out working for a minister in the Canadian government in the early 1990s, PR was all about ‘staying on message’ and delivering that message mainly through news media channels. We had the luxury of long news cycles: we would prepare the message, do the interview, and not see or feel much impact until the evening television news and the next morning’s dailies. Today, communicators have less control over the message than ever before, as it is adapted, influenced and spread by many voices; so, communication has become even more about the building of relationships with stakeholders and influencers, and stewarding those relationships both in person and online.  To do well in the long term, you need a higher level of transparency and authenticity – plus an ability to know when you’re wrong, to say so quickly, and to back up your apology with tangible, measurable action. And whatever you say or do, it’s on the internet forever. The higher stakes, higher speed and eternal legacy of communication have changed the business forever – and generally for the better.”

Meghan Loneragan, one half of the creative duo behind the lifestyle blog Citizens of the World, said: “We can’t believe how much social media following has influenced how brands select their spokespeople. It feels like people are chosen on how large their digital footprint is rather that their expertise. In some ways it has levelled the playing field and opened up the world but in other ways we feel for ‘old school’ talent that didn’t embrace digital so much. Maybe the pendulum will swing? I say this knowing that we really appreciate having a large social following but there has to be more depth there, a skill or an educated opinion.”

Corporate communicator and travel writer Diane Squires said: “The internet has made it both easier and harder to reach audiences – easier because anyone can publish their messages, but harder because there are so many more channels vying for people’s attention. When I started out in a media role, we sent a release, rang the journalist to check it they’d received it and wrote for internal and stakeholder specific publications. Now we have so many social media channels, online blogs and websites to write for, as well as publications and of course, we still regularly pitch to media – but not always via a media release.”

And last week Dr Karen Sutherland from the University of the Sunshine Coast told us the biggest change she has noticed is: “Keeping up with technology and the increasing flow of and demand for information. The fundamental communication, PR and marketing principles will not really change, but how we facilitate them is constantly changing. Also, information (and misinformation) can spread around the globe in a matter of minutes. Being across this and ready to respond can be challenging. Social media does not sleep, so monitoring what is happening and being ready to manage any crises and issues 24 hours a day is definitely a challenge; so too, is the constant hunger for new content and producing high quality pieces to keep up with this demand.”

Discover more changes in the communications sector by exploring past interviews in our Communicator’s Corner.

Toilets, mobile phones and at-home DNA tests surprised Bill and Melinda Gates in 2018

51902523_10156009969561961_166770036755660800_nTalk about surprise and delight. Bill and Melinda Gates have delivered another inspiring letter to the world outlining key areas for action for philanthropists, business, government and anyone interested in improving the world. It’s also an excellent example of creative communications in action!

I always look forward to reading the dynamic duo’s annual letter and was delighted to see it pop up in my LinkedIn feed during a late-night social media trawl. What first caught my attention was a video featuring a surprise game of “Guess this word” between Bill and Melinda.

So, before I jump into the letter, I wanted to highlight this creative use of video on LinkedIn with a surprise “guess this phrase” game between the couple. They used the game as a gateway to converse about a range of social issues including improving women’s lives around the world and the grand challenges of climate change. Watch out dinner party guests: I’ll be expecting cute card games at our next round-table!

While this creative approach may not suit every situation, it’s worthwhile considering the next time you’re launching a new initiative or even just releasing your company’s latest annual report and getting your senior leaders to play a game!

Now back to the compelling content of this latest correspondence from Bill and Melinda. In their ‘his and her’ style letter, the well-known philanthropists share some of the things that have inspired them over the years and how these surprises are moving them to action.

From the opportunity to use at-home DNA tests to help prevent premature birth, to the desperate need to find an economical and environmentally-friendly solution to the toilet, the letter outlines a range of opportunities for the world to begin solving major social issues.

While I encourage everyone to take a few minutes to read the letter, I’ve also curated a couple of the most interesting points below:

  • Connectivity is a solution to marginalisation and mobile phones are most powerful in the hands of the poorest women, including millions of Indonesians making a living through Go-Jek, a popular mobile platform for rides, food deliveries, and other services AND the country’s first Unicorn company!
  • An entire NYC will be built around the world every month and if we’re going to solve climate change, we need to get to near-zero emissions on all the things that drive it—agriculture, electricity, manufacturing, transportation, and buildings
  • A project involving at-home DNA tests has led to a simple blood test that could be the answer to minimising the risks associated with premature births; but what’s most surprising is why is there so little attention given to something that impacts 10% of the people in every part of the world?

There are nine surprises in total and each gives cause to pause and reflect. As well as inspiring plenty of action, the letter also includes some excellent ‘explainers’ and simple evidence to begin discussions with colleagues, friends and family.

Once you’ve had a chance to read the letter, let us know what surprised you the most  by leaving a comment below.

Going online for offline engagement

DrKaren2019What does it take to educate the next generation of communicators about social media? Find out in this week’s Communicator’s Corner with Dr Karen Sutherland from the University of the Sunshine Coast. When she’s not helping local businesses and non profits maximise their social media engagement, she’s educating students as the Lecturer, Program Coordinator and Discipline Lead – Social Media and Public Relations at USC.

Your elevator statement – who are you professionally and personally?

Helping others is my objective, professionally and personally. I aim to achieve this by educating and/or connecting others. I would describe myself as a Social Media Educator, Researcher and Consultant. My background is in marketing and PR. I began my career 20 years ago and have worked in a range of sectors and roles over the years. Currently, I am a Lecturer at the University of the Sunshine Coast where I lecture and coordinate the Bachelor of Communication (Social Media) (new for 2019) and lead public relations as a discipline. My research is focused on social media in the non-profit sector, in Higher Education pedagogy, as a tool for offline engagement, and explores its impact on employability. I love delivering social media workshops within my community and I also provide social media consulting and coaching services to businesses in Australia and overseas.

Tell us about your typical day in communications?

It always begins early. After my daily yoga practice, I catch up on the developments that I have missed while I have been asleep. I have some amazing contacts in the U.S. and U.K. so I like to see what they are up to and answer any emails. My days are usually spent working on research, course development, helping students and clients and doing pro bono work. I also create my own social media content. I am a firm believer in leading by example. I can’t expect my students to take my advice when I don’t follow it myself.

When did you first know you wanted to work in communications?

I have had a love of reading, writing and storytelling from a very young age. It was never a conscious decision to work in communications. I think it has always been part of who I am and it all unfolded for me naturally.

Who’s your communication hero/mentor?

I have a few: Dr Joy Chia, Assoc Prof Karen Freberg, Dennis Yu, Madalyn Sklar, and Gary Vaynerchuk. There are many others who have helped me over the years who I am deeply grateful to for their support.

Which tools can’t you live without?

The internet (of course), my iPhone, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram, WordPress, WeVideo and Canva. These all make communication and content production so simple.

What are the biggest challenges in your role?

Most of my social media courses involve students working directly with real clients and with enrolment numbers growing steadily, managing these student/client relationships can be challenging. It adds a lot of extra work in terms of administration and liaison than the regular courses that I coordinate, but the results are worth it. The students can include practical work experience on their CVs and include real-world examples in their portfolios to show prospective employers. The clients receive fresh ideas, strategies, social media content and recommendations based on their social media performance data to assist their organisations. Some clients hire their assigned student as a freelancer at the end of the course, which is the best outcome possible.

Tell us about the best campaign you’ve ever worked on?

Every campaign that I worked on during my time at the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. These campaigns literally helped to save lives.

What’s been the biggest change to communication/marketing/public relations since you began your career?

Keeping up with technology and the increasing flow of and demand for information. The fundamental communication, PR and marketing principles will not really change, but how we facilitate them is constantly changing. Also, information (and misinformation) can spread around the globe in a matter of minutes. Being across this and ready to respond can be challenging. Social media does not sleep, so monitoring what is happening and being ready to manage any crises and issues 24 hours a day is definitely a challenge; so too, is the constant hunger for new content and producing high quality pieces to keep up with this demand.

If you had to cut/keep something in your communication budget, what would it be?

That’s a tough one. It would all depend on specific goals and objectives. Working in academia means that I don’t have a budget to cut. 🙂

What quality do you look for in your communication team members?

Highly developed interpersonal and writing skills, passion, enthusiasm and integrity.

What book/blog do you think every communicator should read?

Associate Professor Karen Freberg’s Social Media for Strategic Communication.

It’s a shameless plug but I’m currently writing a book called Strategic Social Media Management – Marketing, Advertising & PR, which should be released next year.

What tips do you wish you’d known starting out in communications?

Communication is rarely glamorous, but deeply rewarding.
Communication is a process not a product.
Clients can often tell you what they don’t want more easily than they can tell you what they really want.
Sometimes it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

Finish this sentence: ‘Communication is…’

an ongoing respectful collaboration.

Courts, crime and communication

AmberWilsonIt would be criminal if we didn’t share this fantastic interview with AAP crime and court reporter Amber Wilson; so we’re proud to share her responses in our first Communicator’s Corner for 2019. Discover why Amber believes communication is an art form!

What’s your elevator statement – who are you professionally and personally?

I’m a journalist covering courts and crime in Melbourne’s CBD.

Tell us about a typical day working in the media?

We keep a hawk eye on the news and court lists to find out what cases might be happening on a given day. The early part of the morning is dedicated to planning and then from 9.30am, we’re generally in and out of the Supreme, County, Magistrates and Federal courts chasing stories. We file over lunch, then we’re at it again until the court system wraps up for the day. We could be chasing anything from a high-profile terrorist plot to the murder of a beloved mother to chasing gangland figures in front of the magistrates court. Throughout the day, we’re in contact with our bosses at the bureaus in Melbourne and Rhodes, while liaising with lawyers and associates to find out details of the cases we’re following. Then we’re back at our desks meticulously combing through court lists after COB.

When did you first know you wanted to be a journalist?

I think I knew I wanted to be a writer first – from a very early age – and then I found my direction while I was at uni. It hasn’t been a linear ride though – I’ve segued and branched out – mainly into corporate communications and at one stage even into yoga teaching, before really finding my calling.

What communication tools can’t you live without?

I’m old fashioned. I love using my notepad and pen in my daily work life. Like everyone, I rely on email and social media and quick access to information on my phone. But as far as my mental processing and day-to-day organisation, I can’t go past a real life notepad, a real life diary, and a pen with freely-flowing ink.

What are the biggest challenges you face? And what are the biggest opportunities?

The media is under a huge amount of pressure in the current climate. That makes a lot of us journalists fearful of the future, preparing for the next five years with an “exit strategy”.

But of course the world is evolving, and the way we access news and information will hopefully catch up with the changes in the way we’re living. I think there’s a change in the perception of journalists as a representative of their masthead to being the product itself, and the news organisation the client. That shift in thinking makes reporters their own “small business” and a unique product, which makes them valuable beyond whatever their current job description is.

Tell us about the news coverage that you’re proudest of?

I enjoyed covering the Rebel Wilson defamation case against Bauer Media. Covering the murder case of Melton mother Simone Quinlan was another big one for me – it was deeply sad and a shocking look into domestic violence and the everyday tragedy and violence that surrounds us.

What’s been the biggest change to the newsroom since you began your career?

When I started off as a news cadet, we filed stories in centimetres to a print edition that was the cornerstone of life in that little Tasmanian community. We’d file by 6pm and the locals would read the paper over their Vegemite and coffee at 7am the following morning. It’s just not like that anymore – news is immediate. As soon as an event breaks, we need to file digitally from the scene and update as the day progresses.

What book/blog/news source do you think every communicator should read?

Documentaries really inspire me – they’re such an in-depth look into issues, and the medium of long-form video is so powerful. A lot of my friends are crazy about podcasts, but for me there’s nothing like delving deeply for hours into a fascinating, intriguing documentary and the issues of social justice that they explore.

What tips do you wish you’d known before starting out in journalism?

The best advice I ever received when I was young, and still as an adult believe now: stick at it. Perseverance is powerful.

Finish this sentence: ‘Communication is…’

…an art form.