Tips from the top

 Illustration courtesy of  Bel Holborow .

Illustration courtesy of Bel Holborow.

It’s one thing to study Communications, but it’s another thing to put your theory into practice. These industry leaders are here to help you with the transition.

Cathy Wagstaff

CEO and Group Editor at Signature Media

 Image courtesy of Dave Bennell/ Big Kiss Creative  (2017).

Image courtesy of Dave Bennell/Big Kiss Creative (2017).

Having founded Signature Media in 1993, Cathy Wagstaff pioneers Australia’s largest and most-respected independent publishing house specialising in luxury and family travel content. Cathy is in charge of over six titles, manages a team of over 25 internal and freelance staff, and mentors interns and younger staff, all while staying up to date on the latest travel trends.

What do you believe is the most challenging part of working in the Communications industry? One of the most challenging parts of working in the media industry is staying relevant and informed. We overcome this by constantly attending training programs and events to keep up-to-date with current trends, technology changes, new opportunities, and to know what is happening in our industry as a whole.

What do you look for in an employee? I value attitude over experience. If you come to work with a smile, a can-do attitude and respect your fellow colleagues, you will fit in well. We also look for staff who are willing to go the extra mile, put up their hand to attend an event or help out with a client meeting. I like to see a willingness to learn and develop skills. I look for someone well-presented, as much of a journalist’s job is forward- facing.

Has your career path been as you first intended? I started Holidays with Kids by myself as a stay-at-home-mum working from home. The team soon grew to four and we moved into a commercial office. We have continued to grow, launched more titles and employed more staff.

If you could go back in time and give your student self a piece of advice, what would it be? Never limit yourself. Know if you put your mind to it, you will succeed.

What advice do you have about transitioning from study to practice? Get as much industry experience as you can, as soon as possible. Aside from getting an internship, I would also suggest starting a blog. Having a visible online presence is one of the first things that employers look for in their preliminary research. Pursue a mentor. Ring the people that you admire and ask them. A lot of industry leaders are busy, so limit the amount of time that you’re requesting. Respect their time, and ask them what is convenient for them. This might mean that you meet them at their office after business hours, or even at their local coffee shop on a Saturday morning.

Olivia Dodds

Project Manager at Elton Consulting

Having worked in the field for four years after graduating from UTS with a degree in Public Communication, Olivia now provides communication and engagement services to clients with Elton Consulting. This involves anything from writing media releases, developing strategies and providing advice, to facilitating discussions and speaking with the community about major projects.

 Image courtesy of Sally Flegg (2014).

Image courtesy of Sally Flegg (2014).

What do you believe is the most challenging part of working in the Communications industry? From a consulting perspective, it’s the need to understand technical and complex topics in a short period of time, and then having to communicate clearly and confidently about them. To overcome these challenges, I ask questions of technical experts, and then try to explain it to a family member (poor Mum!).

What do you look for in an employee? I mainly look for an individual that’s a cultural fit. Our company vision is, “Making a difference to cities and regions, communities and organisations”, so I am on the lookout for someone who is community-minded and hard-working. Technical ability is important, but secondary to this.

Has your career path been as you first intended? When I first went to university, I wanted to get into public relations in the film industry. In my last semester, I did a subject on community engagement and decided it was a better fit for me. Just after finishing, I saw the advertisement for Elton Consulting’s graduate position in communication and engagement, and got it!

What advice would you give to someone looking to break into the industry? Start interning now, and consider finding internships that give you a flavour for different career paths within the field - communications and media is so varied. For example, my first internship was within a PR firm, and, while it gave me great experience, I soon realised that straight PR was not for me. My next internship was with the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet, working on Australia Day 2014. This gave me an introductory insight into the world of State Government and definitely helped get me the grad position at Elton Consulting.

It’s really not until you start putting the theory to the test that it truly makes sense. Interning in a full-time capacity during holidays is also a great taster for work life – juggling priorities, attending meetings and owning things – and provides you with great content to draw on in interviews for graduate positions.

If you could go back in time and give your student self a piece of advice, what would it be? Read the readings, and go on more trips during your university holidays. It’s so easy to cruise through uni just doing the bare minimum, but your experience can become all the more rich through engaging properly with the resources provided, and capitalising on your tutors’ knowledge and experience. And then go on holidays whenever you can – you will soon only have four weeks of annual leave!

Tricia Wunsch

Program Director (Transport) at Kathy Jones & Associates (KJA)

 Image courtesy of KJA (2018).

Image courtesy of KJA (2018).

As part of KJA’s executive leadership team, Tricia leads the transport consulting team, overseeing projects and business development. She has 28 years of corporate affairs and communications experience in the private and public sectors, as an executive, consultant and adviser to CEOs and boards.

What do you believe is the most challenging part of working in the Communications industry? The most challenging is also the best: You need to know your organisation as well as the CEO does, and every day is different. One minute you’re project managing the minutes of your company’s annual report, and the next you’re giving TV interviews in a crisis. To meet these challenges, I’ve capitalised on my strengths and addressed my weaknesses. For me, the latter was understanding finance - so I could communicate company financial reports and manage multi-million dollar budgets. By seeking CFO mentors and taking the Australian Institute of Company Directors course, I’ve turned this into a relative strength.

What do you look for in an employee? Raw intelligence, resilience and drive. A natural curiosity and a desire to make sense of the situation and act, because a job doesn’t always turn out to be what you expected.

Has your career path been as you first intended? No! I originally completed a post- grad in journalism, but there were no jobs in Western Canada. I’d heard about ‘the other side of the fence’ – corporate communication – and set my sights, cold-calling big companies to find a Head of Communications to hire me. Meanwhile, to make ends meet, I applied to be an adjuster at an insurance company. They didn’t hire me for that job, but three months later called me back to interview for their internal communications team. I got the job, and my career was born.

What advice would you give to someone looking to break into the industry? There are so many avenues for communications, from corporate to government to consultancy. Overall, I would say pursue your plan and persist, but stay open to opportunities that come your way.

If you could go back in time and give your student self a piece of advice, what would it be? You have time; life is long and so is a career. Maintain your enthusiasm, don’t put yourself under too much pressure. Progress occurs in its own time, so long as you put in the effort.

Does your work change when you work in different sectors? The skillset is similar, but the functions and stakeholders vary. For example, in the private sector, you’re dealing with shareholders, media, customers, issues management, employee comms, regulatory and government relations – at least nationally, usually internationally. In government, you have a state or national remit, and a public policy focus with political sensitivities to manage.

Scott Newton

Senior Project Manager (Practice & Innovation) at Kathy Jones & Associates (KJA)

 Image courtesy of KJA (2018).

Image courtesy of KJA (2018).

Previously in Sales, Recruitment and Marketing, Scott is a relative newcomer to the Communications industry with just four-years experience, Scott is one to watch. Currently, he manages client projects for KJA, as well as the company’s Innovation Hub, which provides fresh engagement solutions for clients.

What do you believe is the most challenging part of working in the Communications industry? Like politicians, communications and engagement practitioners are expected to engage in a wide range of topics. I have facilitated workshops and meetings around health, arts, smart technology, maritime safety and even chickens. I’ve found the trick is to let the experts be experts and focus on what I’m good at – guiding the group towards a shared decision.

What do you look for in an employee? When I recommend someone for KJA, it’s because they demonstrate that which can’t be taught – intelligence, initiative, critical thinking and attention to detail. Consultancies are fast-paced environments that require people who will ask the right questions, make sense of what’s required and deliver on it efficiently to the best of their ability.

What advice would you give to someone looking to break into the industry? Don’t say ‘no’ until you’ve let an opportunity grow a little. When I started at KJA, I was looking for money on the side while I pursued a career in Video Game Development. Now, I see the facilitation and innovation skills I’ve learnt at KJA forming the basis of my future career. If I had simply seen KJA as a side hustle and nothing more, I would never have seized the opportunities that have got me to this point.

If you could go back in time and give your student self a piece of advice, what would it be? I would tell myself to broaden my skillset beyond communications. General knowledge isn’t as important as it once was, but general skills are. I would have thrown myself into design, management and programming courses, and found groups of young enthusiastic people who were into these things so I could learn from them. That’s what I’m trying to do now.

What advice do you have about transitioning from study to practice? I’m a learn-on-the-job type, so when I look back to university, what I really took away with me were ways of thinking. A lecturer once told my cohort that we are the ‘literary elite’. I would go further than that and say we are the ‘engagement elite’. Jump into your work with enthusiasm but remember that, as someone who studied communications and engagement, it is your responsibility to advocate for the inclusion of everyone in the conversation.

What is different about working with government clients? Government exists for the people, so its agencies are accountable to everyone on the street. They are looking to us for cost-effective and transparent engagement in what is a complex environment of politics and media scrutiny.

This article appeared in The Comma’s 2018 Annual Edition. Read more here.