Life as a Brit working in Comms in Australia

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 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!



Building the trust in business – what can internal communicators do about it?

The findings of the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer explore for the 14th year running the importance of trust in business:

“We believe that trust is an asset that enterprises must understand and properly manage in order to be successful in today’s complex operating environment. Unlike reputation, which is based on an aggregate of past experiences with a company or brand, trust is a forward facing metric of stakeholder expectation.”

As well as the result of the research, the report reveals 16 key attributes to building trust.

I decided to take a closer look at this section and identify specifically what role internal communicators can play in 2014 to contribute to the building of trust in the organisation in which they work.

I’ve done this because, while the report looks mainly at external perceptions of organisations, I believe that you can only build trust with customers and the general public if first you build a culture of trust with your employees.

I’ve highlighted on the Edelman Slideshare slide 32 (below ) what I think are the key areas we can influence in our roles and listed some important questions (in orange) to ask yourself in relation to these.


edelman slide 32 annotated

*For tips on how to internal comms can build an innovative culture, visit this useful post by Zyncro here.

My view

While internal communicators have a role to play in influencing all of the 16 key attributes outlined above, I think those highlighted are most closely tied to our purpose.

What’s interesting is that leadership /CEO is listed one of the key four factors which influence trust in a business in this report. This means, it’s more important than ever to get the support for our leaders right and help them to communicate effectively. It’s time to have conversations with leaders about these findings. Encourage authenticity from leaders and openness, transparency and honesty in all communications.

Finally, internal communications needs to work in partnership with external communications on each of these attributes. There can be no disconnect between what is communicated externally and what is communicated internally. But I believe internal communications plays the crucial first role in building trust. Because we have to get the internal culture right first;  building trust with customers and the general public is only possible if first you build a culture of trust with your employees.

What do you think? What role can internal communications play in building trust in business?

Do our internal comms need a diet?

two%20people%20eating%20burgerJust a few years ago an internal comms strategy was akin to the ‘three square meals a day’ approach.

It was designed to be hearty and filling, with enough nutritious energy to sustain employees throughout the working week. Sure, there were gaps between meals, but when a meal came along, you knew that you’d find something satisfying. A chunky monthly CEO message, a filling employee magazine for dinner. What’s more, employees could sit at the table in anticipation, build an appetite and know when and what they were getting.

Okay, so not everything was that great. For one thing, we used to serve up breakfast, lunch and dinner on the table and run back to the kitchen. Everyone ate alone and we never asked anyone what they wanted to eat.

But slowly, we adapted. We sat down with our employees and ate at the table too – great! We started conversation over dinner – excellent! And we even got employees cooking meals too and serving them up themselves – even better!

But then, somehow, we lost our way.breakfast lunch dinner

Nowadays, employees never know when the next big feed will be because as well as the three square meals, we’ve allowed an array of snacks and junk food to be available on demand. Everything has become too messy, available without much thought into why it’s being served, and lacking nutrition.

So when did we comms teams become feeders? When did we allow our employees to binge on our comms?

For one, we allowed everyone to start cooking. We gave some training, and we opened up lots of places for the dishes to be served. We were so happy to see our people cooking, that somewhere along the way we forget that the kitchen still needs a head chef, a menu and a weekly meal plan.

Maybe we were just reflecting the (digital) world we live in? We were so keen to replicate the 24/7 drive-thru that is social media, that we unintentionally overfed our employees. We’ve lost track of what we’ve put on the table and we need to remember to give people the time to digest the important stuff.

And, sometimes I think we’ve lost sight of what’s important – those three square meals a day serve a real purpose. They help our people become stronger, with more energy and an appreciation of what they’re eating and why. In contrast, the junk lacks nutritional content, and worse, it means noone is hungry for the next meal. They lose an appetite for the good stuff and noone knows where they are because everyone’s just constantly eating.

diet picAs comms teams we need to take back control of the meal planning, bring back some routine and ensure our people get enough of the good stuff as well as the snacks. It’s a new year, and as most of us try to shed those unwanted xmas pounds, maybe it’s time to put our comms on a detox too?

Let’s ditch the junk and keep snacking to a minimum. Help our employees to understand the nutritional value of our comms by keeping our strategies focused on those three square meals a day.

What do you think? Do our internal comms need a diet?

What new skills did you learn as a comms pro in 2013?

As December rolls into place on my iPhone calendar, I started to reflect on my year at work.

I’ve worked in various roles in internal and external communications, PR and journalism since 2000, but never before has my skillset needed to widen, deepen and adapt moreso than in the last 12 months.

Here’s just a few of the skills I’ve needed this year to do my job, represented in a word cloud. Many are new skills, some build on existing skills I had previously….

(wordcloud created using
(wordcloud created using

I think it’s a great showcase of what’s so exciting about the role of a communications professional. The increase in digital skills is a key theme and while writing is still a core strength for the role, so much more is required in today’s workplace. I can’t wait to see how our industry continues to evolve in 2014…..

What do you think? What skills did you learn in 2013?

How to introduce gamification where you work: an enterprise case study

pacman 2

In late May, a small team at AMP launched a ‘Mystery-gami’ game. It was an experiment in gamification for all involved – a first for AMP internally – and with little expectation of its success.

The game ran for a little over a week, originally set out as a way to engage staff to join in the week-long AMP-led event Amplify Festival. But it surpassed all predictions. In just 10 days it had reached 900+ players, generated 40,000 touches, and seen engagement across multiple locations of the business – nationally and internationally.

Project lead, Developer Mark Morgan tells us about the game in his own words:

“I learnt so much about gamification and how powerful it is. I recognised gamification is everywhere and part of us. In my mind, reading a book is a good analogy for a game. The reward is finding out the ending, a chapter mark is akin to getting a badge. It marks your progress. We used the same principles.”


“Our game idea was to finish the mystery-gami by working out the mystery puzzle. Every badge you got earned you a fold in the puzzle. All nine badges, you completed the puzzle.

“We designed it so that the final badge could only be earned on Expo day – the final day of Amplify Festival – so that we wouldn’t have people completing the game too quickly. Six people completed the game in total. It was important to make the game fit to the theme of Amplify – origami was a perfect fit to transformation.”

How we did it

“The idea is that there is something for everyone in the game. Using the Octalysis model of the core drivers for successful gamification we tried to match our scoring opportunities in the game to cover all of the core drives. This helps our game to have appeal to all players.

“There are four types of player – ‘killers’ who just want to win at any cost are the ones to watch out for. You have to be careful of them, they can get so far ahead in the game that it puts others off. That’s a theory of course, but it really became true. We had 5-6 ‘killers’ in our game.

The Amplify team took part in a brain storming session with the Amplify Festival speaker and gamification expert Marigo Raftapoulos (watch her session here) which kicked things off.

The excitement builds

“Promotion of the game was minimal. But even before any comms had gone out, people had picked it up from the app and website.

“The game only came out on Tuesday before Amplify Festival. From the Wednesday, people were already asking ‘how we can get more points?’ We started a quiz to give people the opportunity to get more points.

“That was my first indication that people were really motivated.”

Employee engagement

“Our leaderboard throughout the competition was dominated by an employee who worked in Parramatta [outer Sydney]. She couldn’t make it to the event – until the Thursday, but still managed to keep in the top five of the leaderboard through the website, tweeting, submitting comments.

“And a guy in NZ – he couldn’t attend. He watched the puzzle being made and completed it and sent through his solution in a photograph. I was quite amazed.

“We designed it so people engaged with content – for the quiz, people had to read all of our website interviews with speakers to answer the questions. People got more points for things they physically had to do – like taking a photograph –to build the engagement.

“A lot of our participants were people highly engaged in Amplify Festival, those taking part in lots of activity – like our speaker buddies, our tweeters and those participating in Idea Frontier [internal idea sourcing platform]. What you see when you look at the leaderboard is people who weren’t passionate about a game – they were passionate about Amplify Festival.”

Mark’s key drivers of success

1) People playing, word of mouth – someone playing could talk to their friends.

2) Game was easy to play – and easy to get on board with. App was slick.

3) Based on framework. Design of game around player types. Badges. People who love playing computer games attracted by points and bages.Even gave me a sense of satisfaction seeing badge popping up

4) It wasn’t about reward, the prize was just a ticket to our closing party. But it’s important people also get recognised.

5) It’s human nature – you see a leaderboard, someone I know above me, it’s competition to get feedback.

6) Make sure you cater for the killers – the most determined players. Keep them happy, whilst not scaring off new players.

Gamification in numbers:

  • 40,000 touches (checking in, doing anything in the app, RFID, website)
  • Top 100 players scored between 175 and 1,213.
  • 900 players scored more than 10 points
  • Six people completed the game.
  • 64 completed the quiz
  • 21 self-taken photographs (‘selfies’) submitted
  • 118 pictures
  • 160 tweets
  • Total cost under $6k

When good comms go bad: is it ever okay for your CEO to dress up as superman?

Is it ever okay for your CEO to dress up as superman?

What are your thoughts on this video below, leaked from NHS (HEY) Hull & East Yorkshire Hospitals Trust?

It was released to staff at the Trust to promote ‘Work-out at Work Day’ and features Chief Executive Phil Morley dressed up as superman and dancing to music. Yep, you’ve got to watch it to believe it….

**UPDATE 28/06/2013: unfortunately due to a copyright claim by the Trust the video below no longer works, you may be able to find elsewhere online**


The video has divided opinion in press, online and seemingly within the NHS Trust itself. Variously labelled as ‘insulting’ to hard-working employees and a waste of time; others meanwhile have said it’s ‘brilliant’.

Personally, I think it’s a real shame that such a well-intentioned engagement piece has backfired so badly. I think it could put off a lot of other leaders from being open to more innovative forms of communication in the future; discourage them from showing their personality and being more than just a suit and tie in an ivory tower.

I think we should congratulate someone like Phil Morley for being brave enough to try something new. It should be seen a what it is – a bit of fun to show his support for this wellbeing initiative.

But not everyone thinks that way. So, how do you balance being creative in your comms with ensuring you protect the reputation of the business you’re in? Is it ever okay for your CEO to dress up as superman?

Here’s a few basic checks to carry out:

– Aim for fun and cool, not David Brent cringeworthyThe HEY NHS Trust video, I think, probably positioned Phil Morley more towards the latter.

– Test out your idea first: what might sound like a great idea in theory just doesn’t work in practice. Think of how it could be perceived – in this case by frontline staff who don’t have the luxury of taking time out of their day for something like this. Will everyone ‘get it’? And if it’s on a video and it’s seen externally, what then?

– Join the dots: Hmmm, multi-million pound cuts to your organisation looming? Likely to involve redundancies? Probably not the best time to be showing all the fun you’re having in the office.

– Is this the right image for your leader? Ask yourself if the person you’ll portray in the video fits the actual personality of the leader. Can they carry it off? How will this build the reputation of your leader throughout your business – particularly among staff who might not have regular face-to-face contact with your leader. If this is all they’ll see, make sure it’s the right image portrayed.

– Does this accurately reflect your workplace culture? Does your piece of comms reflect the values of your organisation? How risk-adverse is your organisation? Can you reinforce your culture through the comms, or will it undermine it?

– And finally, manage closely and trust your gut instinct: It remains to be seen how closely involved the comms team at HEY NHS Trust were in the making of this video. Phil Morley has said to the media that he was asked by his physiotherapy team to take part. Ultimately, you need to be the trusted adviser to your CEO and the one guiding the decision. Even if he/she wants to take part, it’s you who should be the one making the call on whether or not they take part. Trust your gut instinct.

And that’s the hardest part of all, weighing up all the pros and cons, staying objective and sticking to your guns. What would you have done?

Why Aussies and Brits don’t speak the same language

Do we speak the same language Down Under? (image courtesy of


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?