Canberra Communications Professionals series: Ben Roberts

Next up in the Canberra Communications Professionals Series, I spoke to Ben Roberts. Ben is currently the Senior Manager, Communication and Engagement at Team Downer.

I met Ben through LinkedIn, one of the great things about this platform is its ability to connect like mind professionals, allowing them to share ideas and experiences. Ben and I have a lot of connections in common, and after reading his profile, I can’t wait to meet him in person.

What is Team Downer?

Team Downer is one of four Major Service Provider consortiums for the Department of Defence’s Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group. In my role as Senior Manager Communication and Engagement, I’m responsible for all external and internal comms, and I also do a bit of comms consulting.

When did you start in this role?

About 6 months ago.

What did you do before you joined the Team Downer?

Immediately prior to my current role, I was a Comms Manager at Raytheon Australia – the Antipodean arm of the US weapons giant.

Before that, I was the senior speechwriter at the ACCC for a time, and prior to that I was one of the senior speechwriters at the Department of Home Affairs. Outside of comms, I have also spent a lot of time doing various public service roles. I was formerly a political staffer, and before that, I was in the Navy.

What does a typical day look like for you?

At the moment a typical day will see me scanning the media and online for threats and opportunities, drafting social posts, editing reports. Preparing internal comms for our employees and external comms for contractors. Writing blog posts and helping out with any other ad hoc comms related tasks that come up in either a drafting or editorial capacity.

On the whole, I spend my time doing what I can to raise the profile of Team Downer and educate our stakeholders about what it is, and what it does.

Can you tell us about one of your career highlights?

I really enjoyed my time as a speechwriter at Home Affairs. I was researching and writing speeches probably about 80 per cent of the time. The rest of the time I was writing report forewords, committee opening statements, opinion editorials and executive comms – really anything with a narrative focus.

It is hard to pick one thing specifically out from that time as there were many triumphs and challenges. Personally, it was working in a really high-functioning speechwriting team.

At one point we had three senior speechwriters and two junior speechwriters, and it was incredible. We were working in the most hotly-contested area of public policy, conveying complex subject matter from speakers of varying popularity (our main speakers being the Secretary of Home Affairs and the Commissioner of the Border Force, and their deputies). It was challenging and exciting, I loved it. Just watching the junior speechwriters develop into formidable, seasoned speechwriters in their own right was very gratifying. 

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career? How did you overcome it?

I think the perennial challenge of communicators has been my personal challenge as well: getting buy-in from your stakeholders and developing their trust.

I have always approached this as a relationship management exercise. I overcome it by building a rapport, being respectful of their subject matter expertise while also clearly advocating that I am an expert too; my expertise is in writing.  After demonstrating that you can be trusted to turn out quality material from their content, you can usually win them around.

What changes do you think will occur in communications over the next decade?

I think the trend towards big data is going to drive more and more communications, but I also think it is a double-edged sword. Having a strong evidence base for your comms is absolutely vital, but that evidence should never become the comms. It supports the message – it isn’t the message itself.

For people working in the speechwriting area specifically, a big challenge is maturing the function in Australia. If you look for speechwriter jobs in Australia, you find barely any. Whereas in the UK, Europe, Asia and America you find a lot. Australian businesses and government are yet to truly discover the value that having dedicated speechwriters can bring.

Who inspires you? Why?

I’m an ancient history aficionado, and I draw a lot of inspiration from those who came before. In that vein, my biggest inspiration is probably the Roman statesman and orator, Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Cicero was one of the towering figures of the late Roman republic era. He was a contemporary (and sometimes enemy) of Julius Caesar, a lawyer, senator and orator. In short, a very sharp man with an acidic tongue that really comes across in his surviving works.

I admire intelligent and cunning people, and he was one of the greatest. He showed me that you can live by your words.

What is your favourite podcast?

My favourite podcast ever was Mike Duncan’s ‘The History of Rome’ series which covered the entire span of the Roman Empire (well, till 476 AD anyway). I also really enjoy Dan Carlin’s ‘Hardcore History’ series. The more you learn about history, the more you realise that people in earlier historical eras were just like us, it is just their circumstances that were different.

Who has been the most influential person in your career? Why?

David Seale. He was the Director of Corporate Comms at Home Affairs when I joined his team to undertake the speechwriting role. He took a chance on me and recognised that my previous political speechwriting experience had given me a good grounding for the role. If he had not been willing to try me out with that opportunity, I might never have found my vocation as a communicator. I owe him a great deal. He’s also just a great bloke and a top notch communicator.

If you could share one tip with other communications professionals, what would it be?

For the love of God, stop using PowerPoint. PowerPoint has a very limited role in professional comms and should only ever be used in a support capacity. Part of your job should be to discourage its use wherever possible. It is an unnecessary distraction most of the time.

A bit more about Ben…

Ben is an experienced strategic communication specialist based in Canberra, Australia.
He is passionate about corporate and strategic communication, public relations, speechwriting, public affairs and leadership. Ben is an avid learner, always looking to expand his skills and experience, and apply his knowledge in new and exciting ways.

Helping people, or organisations, tell their story, and tell it well, is one of Ben’s favourite things to do. Words possess awesome power, and Ben has demonstrated experience in how to employ them in a variety of settings—from international forums, to domestic audiences—and in high level corporate narratives, reports, opinion editorials, speeches, media releases, and more to achieve different goals.

Throughout his career, Ben has written for politicians, ambassadors, agency and corporate heads and many other individuals for speeches or communications products that were delivered in Australia, and overseas.

In his spare time, Ben loves ancient history, writing, coffee and spending time with his kid. 

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