Life as a Brit working in Comms in Australia

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The stunning Sydney city skyline

This week I was very excited to begin a new role as a Communications Manager at Transport for London. It’s a new challenge in more ways than one because it’s my first role back in London after nearly four years living and working in Sydney, Australia.

As I adjust back to life in London, it feels like a good time to reflect on the experiences I had in Sydney and share them so that they might be useful to anyone else considering a period of time working overseas.

Back then, as a Brit arriving ‘Down Under’, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the workplace, my colleagues and what opportunities I might find along the way.

Finding a job 

I was lucky enough to secure my first contract role within a few weeks of arriving in Sydney. I was advised to seek short contract roles to begin with to quickly build my reputation and networks in the city.

  • In Australia, there’s really just one place to look online for a job in Communications. The website Seek.com.au is a great resource and one-stop-shop for opportunities, although you’ll also find more and more roles being advertised on LinkedIn too.
  • Breaking into the industry can be tough if you’re new to Australia, especially if you want to work in external communications. You’ll need to demonstrate an understanding of the media landscape from the off. As I mentioned, taking on short contract roles (perhaps at a lower level than the role you really want), is a great way to build your credibility.
  • Recruitment consultants won’t tend to engage with you until you’re in the country – it’s worth a try, but it’s best just to give them all a call as soon as you arrive to arrange meetings.
  • The industry is very small and people know each other – which is why your reputation is so important. Once you’ve proven yourself in one role, you’ll find it much easier to secure subsequent roles.

The way of working

  • Australians might speak English, but sometimes it can seem like a completely different language! I wrote about some of the differences I discovered on an earlier post ‘Why Aussies and Brits don’t speak the same language’.
  • Working patterns are different to the UK: since summer falls across  Christmas and New Year, long school holidays stretch from early December to the end of January. You might find businesses begin to wind down a few weeks before Christmas and Australia Day in late January is widely acknowledged as the date things really start to return to normal for the business year ahead.
  • Face-to-face communication can be difficult to maximise as a comms channel: Australia is a beast of a country – it’s a five hour flight from Sydney to Perth for example and 12 hours’ drive even between Sydney and Melbourne. National businesses across multi-sites do build face-to-face into communications, but it’s used sparingly and of course this can be a major challenge in engaging remote employees.
  • Major business hubs (in approximate order of prominence) are: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth. The capital Canberra is really a centre for Government.
  • Life in Australia is so varied and diverse, it’s really like nowhere else on earth. Remote townships in the Outback lie hours and hours drive from major cities. While Sydney and Melbourne aim to compete on a global scale in terms of business, culture and leisure. Not only does this make for a very varied workforce, but also a varied population in general. One of the most valuable trips I made was to the Outback town of Broken Hill, population 22,000, to understand what life was like for one of the franchisees of the business I was working for as Communications Manager. My advice is to travel as much as you can before you settle on where to live, so that you can to try and understand the culture of this place and what makes it tick. Real Australia is not Sydney!

And finally….

Australia is a friendly and positive place to live and I enjoyed every minute of the time I spent over there. Australians were fortunate enough to have not felt the impact of the GFC as much as the UK and it really shows. There’s a real sense of optimism, creativity and innovation which is infectious. There are so many opportunities in Australia to take advantage of – good luck!

 

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Australian Edelman Trust Barometer results revealed….how does Oz stack up?

Employees – not leaders – are now the most trusted source of information about business in Australia across four key areas: customer service, innovation, business practices and leadership information.

These are the findings of the Australian Edelman Trust Barometer 2014.

The research also shows trust in ‘regular employees’ has risen from 33 per cent in 2009 through to 53 per cent in 2014. I think the large increase should send a clear message to businesses of the importance of treating employees as the most powerful brand advocates and the value of internal communications in driving this for organisations.

Australian Edelman Trust Barometer findings

You can read the full slide deck of the Australian Edelman Trust Barometer. Some of the key takeaways I took note of for Australia include:

  • Trust in Australia has increased across the board – in NGOs, business, Government (up 13 per cent!) and in media. Trust in every institution is now at its highest point since 2009
  • Trust is six points higher than the UK and nine points higher than the US. Trust in Australia now stands at 58 points on the Trust barometer.
  • Australians are calling for more regulation from Government to protect individuals from business.
  • There is low trust in China – despite China being Australia’s main trading partner.

What are the takeaways for internal communications pros?

I covered the findings of the global Barometer results on a recent blog post here, exploring what internal comms pros could do about the findings.

So what about specifically for Australia?

I return again to the findings that focus on the high level of trust in ‘regular employees’. Slide 20 from the pack demonstrates just how staggering these figures are:

edelman trust barometer

Internal comms pros need to work hand-in-hand with external comms and marketing teams to build-up employees as the greatest asset for the company. The slide pack also lists some of the other ways business can build trust, including: treating employees well, acts responsibly in a crisis, is transparent and open.

Trust in CEOs has also increased since 2009 from 19 per cent to 39 percent. There is still more to do! Slide 23 in the pack highlights the ways leaders can take action. These are all areas internal comms can and should be supporting:

edelman trust barometer australia

 Want to find out more?

Why Aussies and Brits don’t speak the same language

Australia
Do we speak the same language Down Under? (image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

 

Brits and Aussies: We speak the same language…..don’t we?

When I arrived in Australia from the UK two years ago, I assumed the transition to the corporate communications industry here in Oz would be simple. After all, we speak the same language and share similar cultural traits.

It’s not been quite that simple. My work in various communications roles since arriving in Australia has helped me discover lots of nuances specific to Oz, in particular interesting phrases and words I’d never used before. Here’s a few examples of new language I’ve needed to learn and adapt to, and their place in the Aussie language:

  • Took out’: No, nothing to do with going on a date or getting floored in a fight. This peculiar little phrase is frequently used in corporate communications and media copy to describe winning something. It is a direct replacement for the word ‘won’, as in:
    “John took out first place in the annual staff swimming competition.”
  • ‘Flow-on’: I first noticed this phrase used in the media in 2011 during the devastating Queensland floods. At first, I assumed it was a reference to the literal effects of the flow-on of the water. But it’s not. It is a phrase used as a prefix to the word ‘effect’, ‘impact’ or ‘result’, such as: “The flow on effect of having no food was that Sue was very hungry.”
  • Bashed / bashing: Used frequently by the media to describe someone beaten up, punched, or kicked. It sounds cartoon-like to me, almost like a Tom and Jerry-esque caper, but the media here use it to describe a serious incident. I first saw this used when notorious Melbourne gangland leader Carl Williams was ‘bashed’ to death with an exercise bike in prison. But it’s also used whenever there is a violent attack. Perhaps softening the reporting of gruesome and violent incidents with a word like bashed, is perhaps the whole point. Here’s the actual report from ABC news on the death of Carl Williams: “Gangland killer Carl Williams died at the high security Barwon Prison after being bashed several times with part of an exercise bike, Victoria Police has revealed.

That’s just a few of the examples I’ve come across. There are plenty more: lollies instead of sweets; thongs instead of flip-flops; the tendency to shorten every word to an ‘o’ (as in ‘arvo (afternoon), rego (registration), avo (avocado).

Does anyone who has worked in both Australia and the UK have more?

Why your marketing team should not be controlling social media

Over the last few days Aussie clothing retailer Target has been the latest in a long line of brands to suffer the backlash from a foray into social media.

Marketers from the company pushed Target’s latest product line – girl’s clothing – via its facebook pages with the presumable aim of reaching an audience of highly-engaged mothers.

But it backfired. The mums saw the clothing as too adult-like for their seven year olds. Criticism picked up pace until the issue made headline news in the morning papers.

What Target planned as a simple product advertisement on a free channel, has now turned into an exercise in crisis media management with the comms team picking up the pieces. (On a side note, I don’t believe in the long-term the Target brand will be damage badly – there’s been as much positive feedback on the lines as negative anyway.)

And, what’s happened to Target is a great example of just where social media management is going wrong in companies at the moment.

As Social Media Consultant Thomas Tudehope commented to the Sydney Morning Herald:

”Historically, it’s been all about their [the brand’s] own content – namely ‘What are we going to post on our page?’ Now it will be the other way around – what are users going to say on our page,” he said.

Yes, what’s gone wrong is that fact that on the whole, the strategy, execution and day-to-day management of social media sits with marketing teams.

And the battle goes like this: CEO/management team decides the company needs to be on facebook. CEO/management team thinks hey, this could get us more sales / hits to our website etc. So CEO/ management team surveys current departments and thinks well, that’s just what our marketing team currently does.

But, whilst this may seem like a common sense approach, the reality is vastly different.  Because what marketing teams don’t do is have conversations with their audiences, deal with positive/negative feedback or manage reputation and sentiment.  They very skilfully promote products and services to drive business, but not the company’s corporate image and profile to drive reputation – nor have to prepare responses when promotion is not well received. Marketeers buy coverage, they don’t earn it.

I read an interesting report on Trends and Issues in Corporate Affairs 2012 from recruiters Salt& Shein earlier this year which has stuck in my mind for a while now.

This extract from page 16 is part of a dedicated section on the battle over social media in companies in Australia right now:

‘THE EXPERIENCE OF ONE HEAD OF FUNCTION IN THE RESOURCES SECTOR SUMMED UP THE CONUNDRUM FACING SOME COMPANIES:

“We have an ongoing debate about who owns social media, and you do get knee-jerk turf wars developing. The corporate affairs department argues it should sit with them because it’s about managing the message, but the marketing department sees it quite differently. For them it’s about corporate brand. But in reality social media runs across the organisation and it is just as important to customer service and the help desk as it is to the guardians of corporate reputation.”’

I think the point is that to achieve success in social media, it needs to be everyone’s business. If social media currently sits solely with your marketing team you NEED to start asking questions. Start asking what will happen when it goes wrong. Are we getting the results we need. What value could other areas of the business add and can we get champions from across the business involved in the strategy. At the very least, a joint approach is needed to every strategy and campaign. Marketing and Comms working together for shared goals.

Language sensitivities: Murdoch’s mistake

Portraying different races, cultures, and disabilities using acceptable terminology in writing or in speech can often be a challenge.

You need to keep up-to-date with trends, understand political or cultural sensitivities, stay abreast of accepted styles and be aware of how the communities themselves wish to be portrayed.

Let’s take the description of ‘disabled people’ as an example. Most of us will remember when the word ‘handicapped’ was completely acceptable. And while ‘disabled people’ is the preferred terminology in the UK, over in the US, the accepted phrasing is ‘people with disabilities’. I found this interesting blog post explaining some of the complexities here.

It’s really difficult. But, I believe that anyone involved in communicating to a wide audience has a responsibility to use correct and current language as best they (we) can. It shows awareness, sensitivity, understanding, intelligence and ultimately retains your credibility as a communicator.

It was quite the opposite for media tycoon Rupert Murdoch when he used the term ‘mentally retarded’ at the Leveson Inquiry this week.

Murdoch wasn’t being malicious – he was praising UK Prime Minister David Cameron for his dedication to his son Evan, who died aged nine years old after battling severe physical and mental disabilities.

Murdoch wasn’t trying to create shock – I really do think that at 81-years-old he just didn’t really think about what he was saying.

And Murdoch might not even have known he had made a mistake – as an Aussie, that terminology is a lot more widely-used Down Under than in England.

But that’s all pretty irrelevant. I think that as the head of a media empire, speaking to a global audience, in the 21st Century, Murdoch had a responsibility to not make that mistake.

He’s not just any 81-year-old Aussie chatting to a few friends down the pub. He’s a man who (whether we like it or not) has a massive reach all across the world. And with that comes responsibility to understand and use the correct and current language of the time and the place he is in.

By not doing so, Murdoch showed himself to be out of touch with the modern world, lacking relevancy and – let’s face it – lacking a bit of common sense.

Words have power, they garner respect and build credibility, and they reflect a person’s understanding of the world.

When you use the incorrect words, the exact opposite becomes true.

A few tips:

  • In business, the internal ‘style guide’ of the organisation should always make reference to correct terminologies, or at least highlight particular areas of caution. This of course depends on your industry and relevant audiences.
  • Check out charity websites: If you’re looking to portray a particular community or group of people, I find it easiest to check relevant websites and copy the language used. For example, if I am writing about diabetes, I’d check Diabetes UK to discover the correct terminology is ‘people with diabetes’.
  • It’s always worth including a list of terminologies in briefing notes if your leadership will be meeting with external stakeholders from particularly interest groups.