Sam is one of those terrifying people that seems to be able to juggle 30 things effortlessly at once. She is the mother that makes amazing healthy lunches, exercises, crafts, works, and socialises. She is a unicorn.
I first met Sam when she joined my team as an APS4 in 2008. I joke that she has followed me around ever since – together we worked at the Child Support Agency, Department of Climate Change and the Clean Energy Regulator. I watched her grow, learn and move up the ladder. It was such a lovely experience to watch her develop from a (young) junior communications officer to a confident senior professional.
Sam has thirst for knowledge and a quiet determination to deliver a perfect product every time. She is never afraid to ask the hard questions, say what she thinks and debate the nuances of a policy position – I love that about her!
After we split up for the first time in almost ten years, Sam left government and moved to the private sector joining Evoenergy as a Strategic Communications Advisor. Despite working with her for a decade, I learnt so much about Sam through this profile. Enjoy!
When did you start in this role?
I have been in this role for 15 months.
What did you do before you joined Evoenergy?
I’ve taken an unusual path to my career in communications. I completed a bachelor’s degree in design (still a great passion of mine), before working as a junior communications officer in the federal government. After a few years at Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts and the Child Support Agency, I moved to Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency to a more senior role in the media team.
In 2011, I had a two-year break to have two babies (!) and support my then husband on posting with Immigration to Darwin.
When I came back to Canberra, I joined the Clean Energy Regulator where I was a Senior Communications Adviser working on the Emissions Reduction Fund and National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme.
While I was at the Clean Energy Regulator, I completed a graduate diploma in strategic communication to formalise my communications qualifications. I couldn’t rule out further study as I’m a firm believer in learning as much as possible to extend your skillset.
What does a normal day look like for you?
Its sounds so cliché, but like most people that work in communications, no two days are the same. I’m a planner, and I remember finding this unpredictability confronting early in my career. Now I simply enjoy the ride, and a day that goes exactly to plan gives me an uneasy feeling!
A ‘typical’ day for me generally starts quite early. I wake around 5.00 am, exercise and eat breakfast, and start work at 6.30 am. I spend half an hour each morning responding to urgent emails and filing the others and prepping for the day’s meetings. What happens from 8.00 am until close of business could range from drafting a social media post or finalising campaign advertising, through to managing reputation risk and issues, proactive and reactive media, or defending our brand.
Over the years, I have come to find a good balance between weekly planning and reactive work by spending 30 minutes every Friday afternoon compiling my calendar for the following week. Booking time with myself to work on big projects and strategy ensures I have time set aside to prioritise important tasks. It’s a constant fight against the busyness and churn of the role, but this system has worked well for me.
Can you tell us about one of your career highlights?
I’ve had so many memorable moments in my career, but if I were to choose one, I’d have to say it was in August last year when my first advertising campaign aired.
A lot of people don’t realise that utilities like Evoenergy aren’t only required to deliver electricity and gas, they’re also required to ensure the safe operation of their networks, and the safety of the community around network infrastructure. To raise awareness of an issue that affects the whole town of almost 400,000 people, is a significant undertaking. When it’s about safety, it’s even harder to get people to sit up and take notice.
After working on the creative approach for the campaign for weeks, I achieved agreement to proceed with a bold new look and feel, using a comical horror movie script and matching imagery. It was daring, and like nothing the company had done before. Although I was confident in our purpose, goals and execution, I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach taking the risk.
I’ll never forget the moment I saw the campaign air on TV. I was proud. Even more so when the tracking results came back with noticeable increases in the click-through rate, impressions and completion rate for on demand viewing. Doing something new and different makes you feel so vulnerable, but this was a good reminder for me to keep pushing the envelope.
Having said that, people that know me know I take pleasure in small things and focus on personal growth, so instead of putting too much emphasis on the big achievements, I generally try and find a career highlight in each week that demonstrates progress.
Last weeks’ highlight was getting a media release approved by the CEO in 15 minutes, with no changes. It was a difficult media release to write, and I deliberated over the framing and tone, so I was really proud to get it right first go. It shows that after working hard for the past 15 months in my role, I am now in a position where I understand our purpose, mission, and brand personality well and can write with ease.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
A huge part of communicating effectively relies on how well you communicate within your organisation. And I don’t mean internal communications (which is incredibly important) I mean collaborating with subject matter experts and leaders to investigate purpose, understand risk and identify challenges and opportunities. Once upon a time, I looked unfavourably on this as ‘hand-holding’. I took pride in it, but I believed it distracted me from my ‘real work’.
It wasn’t until a chance encounter with a psychic in Byron Bay, who randomly grabbed me by the hands and said, “working with different people and characters is the key to success, learn this well and put customer service first”. I had an epiphany in that moment and have since changed the way I perceive my work and my role within an organisation. It has made me take a more relaxed view of things. I still get frustrated from time to time and repeat the psychic’s words to myself when I need to, but I’ve found that leading each client interaction with empathy and kindness always achieves the best result.
What changes do you think will occur in communications over the next decade?
Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently said ‘we’re all essential’. He wasn’t specifically referring to communications professionals, but I believe he was right—people are essential, and in the future, people with communications skills will become even more essential.
In June last year, I attended an address by Chris Richardson of Deloitte Access Economics on the future of the workforce. He said that over the next 10–20 years there will be a dramatic increase in the development and application of artificial intelligence which will automate a large number of our industries that rely on repetitive precision work. However, there will be an increasing demand for human skills such as empathy, emotional intelligence, and creativity.
Recent changes in the way organisations engage with the community, and the rise of corporate responsibility supports this view. As we are living in an increasingly complex world, the need for communication will also increase. I think over the next decade, there will be a demand for more engaging, transparent, and connected communications.
Who inspires you? Why?
I never tire listening to Simon Sinek. Everything he says resonates with me on a deep level and makes me think.
My favourite quote of his that I try and live by is: “We are drawn to leaders and organisations that are good at communicating what they believe. Their ability to make us feel like we belong, to make us feel special, safe and not alone is part of what gives them the ability to inspire us.”—Simon Sinek.
Closer to home, my Mum and Dad inspire me endlessly. They’re so unique, level-headed and hard working. Their relentlessness to challenge convention has made me the person I am today.
What is your favourite book?
Right now, I am obsessed with the podcast ‘How to Money’. Their coverage of the coronavirus and its impact on the economy has been fantastic.
Professionally, the best book I have read is ‘Public Relations, Activism, and Social Change: Speaking Up’ by Kristin Demetrious. It provides such a fantastic insight into people led campaigns, and what it truly means to be an ethical communicator.
Who has been the most influential person in your career? Why?
Mel Gibbons! I first met Mel in 2009 when I started working for her in the communications team at the Child Support Agency. We worked together for ten years after that first meeting, and I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to learn so much from her about this profession.
Throughout our work and life experiences together, I’ve always admired Mel’s dedication to best practice communications. Her determination to get results—get the best results and raise the bar in everything she does has shaped how I operate, as well my focus and outlook. And yet, there’s more I can learn from her. Thanks Mel.
[Editors note: Awwww – stop it!]
If you could share one tip with other communications professionals, what would it be?
Don’t underestimate the power of effective communications. Communications is often at the crux of a business having no idea what it is doing to finding direction.
Whether we like it or not, a simple media release can lead a business strategy, so always take the time to discuss, document and agree on your purpose, goals and objectives so you, and management, have clarity. This will ensure you can measure and evaluate success and return on investment as well.
Don’t have time? Use ELM Communications’ templates!
A bit more about Sam…
A bit more about Sam…
Sam is an experienced communications professional with diverse experience working across the public and private sector. She has demonstrated skills and knowledge focused on strategic communications, media and issues management, and stakeholder engagement. Sam is dedicated to relationship manager, understanding that this supports better communications outcomes. Sam has a remarkable professional mix as a trained designer and an experienced strategic communicator with a Graduate Diploma in Communication and Media Studies from Deakin University.
Outside of work, Sam is a mother of two sassy girls and loves nothing more than getting out into nature to experience all the world has to offer.