We spoke to Red Agency founder Neil Travers, Think HQ’s Strategic Advisor.
You career has spanned Burson-Marsteller in Hong Kong, Director of Pacific Strategies and Founder of Red Agency. What aspect of your career gives you the most satisfaction?
After many years working as an in-house PR practitioner in both government and private sectors, the move to finally back my judgement and establish my own agency bought home the incredible challenges faced by thousands of small start-up professional services firms. It raised questions like “what are the services you are actually offering?”, “What is your real point of difference to many other great agencies, big and small?”, “How do you establish smart processes and systems that will turn a ‘one man band’ into a viable business?” – the list goes on.
Successfully navigating these start-up issues to build an agency - one that delivers effective work to appreciative clients and became known in the industry as a great place to work – that is the most satisfying.
The opportunity to be able to offer interesting jobs to young graduates and watch them develop into seasoned communication professionals has also been very rewarding.
You’ve mentored Think HQ for some time now. What led you to join the team in a formal capacity?
Think HQ is an agency that lives by some really strong values of integrity and ethics in delivering important projects to its core client base of not for profit and philanthropic organisations. I was also attracted to the vision of a new style, full service PR agency that delivers a wide range of in-house services from research and strategy; content and engagement; creative and interactive and traditional PR and activation. To me Think HQ offers a very different PR agency model that is more akin to a large creative advertising agency. The digital space continues to blur who does what. So watch this space!
Following Red Agency, you’ve maintained an active role in industry, holding a number of advisory roles including at Swinburne University. Can you tell us about the importance of education in PR & communications?
A career in public relations offers amazing opportunities across all sectors of the economy. It is a growth industry offering challenging and rewarding careers. Hopefully your undergraduate PR or communication degree will have provided you with the background to public relations in business and government and you will have gained high level skills in writing, presentations, project management, research and strategy development. But this is only the beginning.
Lifelong learning is required. It will add new skills that enable you to stay ahead of the pack. It is important that you regularly attend communication conferences, insist on in-house training sessions as well as finding a mentor that can help when you need some seasoned advice. The best PR practitioners that I have observed are those who develop deep personal and business networks and are always inquisitive or curious to want to know things.
What advice would you give to not for profits and community organisations looking to up-skill in order to build and implement a solid communications strategy with existing resources?
Digital skills are first and foremost. Social media is a fantastic and cost effective way to share your stories and engage your audience. Deciding what platforms to use, being consistent and finding the right tone of voice are obvious challenges.
Given the often-limited resources in the sector there is always the temptation to try and do too much and spread yourself too thin. Targeting and using one or two social platforms really well may be the best approach.
Spending more time on the planning process to work out how to get the best use out of generally small budgets is also important.
What tools or abilities do you think are essential for tackling the kinds of challenges organisations face in the digital sphere?
Having a good understanding of the most credible media sources is important for any organisation. It might come as a surprise that in Australia the most trusted media and the most credible source of news is radio. Radio performs well because it is more likely to be perceived as ‘an old friend.’
Australia is a large, diverse, multicultural society. Yet it is easy for many communicators to neglect CALD communities. Not partnering with a LOTE agency on your next big campaign could be a mistake.
For the NFP sector a program of continual communication with all stakeholders, with key messaging and a clear understanding of the issues and complexities of each audience is often an overlooked ingredient in the planning process.
Engagement and stakeholder relations must be the lifeblood of every NFP organisation. Improved communication will hopefully open doors to stronger, rewarding partnerships with business and donors alike.
A recent study on Australian universities showed that 41% of communications graduates felt that their degree wasn’t relevant to their jobs. How can emerging PR & communications professionals create work opportunities and better prepare themselves for when those opportunities arise?
The good news is that most PR graduates are getting jobs. In fact there seems to be a talent shortage at many levels of the industry. Like many professions the world of communication is continually evolving but the old rules of who to communicate with, how to communicate and when to communicate will always apply.
It’s true that graduates often find the fast paced agency world quite daunting when they start their career. This is where the value of a paid internship can make the transition to full employment a smoother road. It is also important to develop additional skills that add value to your career. For example, an understanding of financial reporting, preparing great visual presentations or project management of complex campaigns. Set yourself a five year plan on what type of work you want to specialise in and prepare for your ‘dream job’, the more specialised you can become the more valuable you will be.