Postgraduate Degree: Master of Journalism & Communication
Current Position: Chief of Staff to Tim Costello, Chief Advocate, World Vision Australia
After studying teaching, I found myself working for World Vision doing regular speaking engagements and becoming more and more interested in the power of story to drive actions and emotions. I had always loved writing, but I wanted to build a solid foundation for how story could be used for purpose. I’m impatient, so the thought of going back to years of study didn’t exactly excite me. And, I’m a pragmatist, I’d been told that most post-grad communications courses are just hours upon hours of theoretical discussion, which almost made me give up on the whole idea. Then, I came across what was the Masters of Communications and Journalism at UNSW. It seemed practical, it had subjects that intrigued me - including a specific subject on not-for-profit comms, and best of all, it was one year of study.
The short answer to this is no. I’d spent my entire life wanting to be a vet. In fact, I still have my Harry’s Practice souvenir shirt, hat, tote bag and pen. But a scarring work experience placement in year 10 changed all that. In many ways, I’ve been making it up as I go along since then.
But, by the time I had enrolled in this course I had a fledgling idea that what I wanted was to help the for-purpose sector tell their stories better.
I didn’t have a particular job or role in mind, just that loose, overarching goal.
I didn’t realise it at the time - but looking back, I would say that the opportunity to devote time every day to honing my skills as a communicator, with the guidance and scrutiny of expert teachers, gave me a firm foundation of practice, and confidence in execution that I didn’t have before.
It set in me a desire to make that work my full-time pursuit and led to me joining a few friends and pioneering a new type of communications consultancy geared toward social impact. Because of that, it set into motion events that have profoundly changed my career trajectory, and given me the chance to do what I loved.
I think one of the most transferable skills that developed through this cause, other than the obvious ‘communications skills’ you’d hope to get from a comms degree - was critical analysis.
The benefit of that skill is that when running an agency, or working in-house, you are able to assess why something does or does not meet a brief. Why a campaign didn’t work, or an audience didn’t respond. It also equips you to take a step back and see your piece of work within a bigger picture or a broader narrative.
The downside is that when I’m shopping for groceries I can’t help but analyse why a brand chose a particular shade and typeface… so it takes a lot longer just to grab the milk and bread.
Since the course was so closely connected to the type of stuff I wanted to learn, and try, in my own time - there was a really nice synergy where the assignments were actually an opportunity to spend focused time on topics that already interested me. Though I’m sure at the time I still complained.
I did assignments on topics like the role of satirists, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert in news-making, and embarrassingly wrote a daily blog on the media coverage of the 2010 US Midterm Elections… which is hopefully not still online. Suffice to say, the degree was rightly all about understanding the media’s role, whether earned, paid or owned, in defining the biggest issues of the day and the assessments gave you a chance to practice doing a better job of it. In this post-truth, fake-news era it’s something I am grateful to have studied.
From memory, I think more than a third of my courses were targeted on, or gave me space to focus on, the niche of non-profit media and communications. The fact that in 2010, UNSW was already offering specific courses for people wired toward purpose driven work is a testament to the forward-thinking culture of the university and its commitment to positive global impact.
I still remember the first lesson of my first course taught by Emily Booker. She introduced herself and shared about her work in mainstream media, and her work with global charity, UNICEF. I realised immediately that I was in the right place. In that course we spent tutorials discussing, and role-playing media issues and opportunities for non-profits and were tasked with creating a press campaign plan for an existing NGO. It was exactly the kind of well taught, practical experience that I was looking for.
As a quick sidenote to this story, a few years after graduating, I reached out to Emily and thanked her for the impact she had on me. We ended up getting a coffee, and I think she paid. So, Emily, if you see this, it’s my shout this time.
Unfortunately, where I was working there just wasn’t a chance to break into the team I wanted to work in. And boy did I try!
Within a year, a good friend who had started freelancing as a designer, and begun to build a business, asked if I wanted to join in. The vision was to create a new kind of creative consultancy with all our work directed toward social good.
It wasn’t so much a foot in the door as it was a jump off a cliff. On my first day I offered to resign, thinking I didn’t have what it took.
Over the next 6 years we had built to a team of 25, opened a second New York, and worked on huge projects for the types of clients I’d only ever dreamed of working for.
If you can’t get a foot in the door, try another door.
I had a few side jobs while at uni. One of those was at the wonderful Taronga Zoo as a teacher and host. I did a night shift at the Zoo’s Roar and Snore, and came straight to uni the next morning - but I forgot my change of clothes.
I spent the whole day at uni dressed in branded khaki from head to toe, being stared at like the kid who wears his uniform to school on mufti day. Never. Again.
Right now I’ve got the chance to work alongside the social justice advocate, Tim Costello. He’s someone whose ability to communicate has not only had a profound impact on my life but on millions around the world - it means I’m constantly learning, which I love.
It’s all of the things I enjoy; varied, fast-paced, and geared toward social impact, which means that whether I’m writing speeches or strategy documents, guiding campaigns or organising media, I’m fortunate enough to be able to tie the work I love to an organisation that is shaping the world for the better.