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Canberra Communications Professional Series: Michelle Rowe

Michelle Rowe is Director of PitchPerfect Media, a Canberra-based communications consultancy. Michelle and I have six degrees (or less) of separation with lots of common connections but we first met last year when Michelle was starting PitchPerfect Media. This profile has left me with so many more questions about Michelle career and experiences, we will just have to catch up for a “strategic wine” to discuss further.

When did you start in this role?

After many years of thinking about starting my own business, I took the plunge and launched communications consultancy PitchPerfect Media a year ago.

What did you do before you this role?

I was a journalist for many years, completing my cadetship in Perth and then working on Australia’s last remaining afternoon daily newspaper, the Daily News, as a reporter and sub-editor.

At 20, I joined the Bangkok Post as a business and finance sub-editor, then followed every young journo’s dream of working on Fleet Street, spending more than a decade in London with the Daily and Sunday Mirror newspapers and ESPN.

After moving back to Australia in 2004, I took on the role of managing editor at Woman’s Day magazine. I later joined Australian Gourmet Traveller as travel editor and deputy editor, before moving to News Limited where I became travel editor for The Weekend Australian newspaper and a food columnist for WISH magazine.

Journalism is my passion. It was all I ever wanted to do as a kid (once I realised I didn’t have the maths and science smarts to be a vet), and it’s been a fantastic career. Journalism has taken me to some of the most amazing places in the world, not just through my roles at the Bangkok Post and the Mirror in London, but as a result of having been travel editor of two of Australia’s leading travel publications.

But a few years ago I realised the writing was on the wall for journalists – that the business model was broken and there was likely to be many good people out of work as budgets contracted and media outlets closed – which has sadly become the reality. I knew it was time to think about my next move, and to take a leap of faith into new territory. I left what was possibly the best travel journalism role in Australia to move into corporate communications … and haven’t looked back.

I’ve had amazing roles as Director of Editorial and Content at NSW tourism and major events agency Destination NSW; followed by senior communications, brand and corporate affairs roles in the property and energy sectors.

This combined experience gave me a strong foundation to launch PitchPerfect Media. I saw a gap in the market for someone with a strong journalism background who also had a clear understanding of corporate communications imperatives. Knowing what the media wants, being able to write well and identify the angles that are going to resonate with the people you need to influence is half the battle won.

I still miss journalism, but don’t regret the choice I made. It proved that there can be an equally rewarding career outside your comfort zone if you’re willing to take the risk and put in the hard yards.

What does a normal day/week look like for you?

In a single week, I could be writing a communications strategy for a private sector organisation, advising someone starting a new business on brand and content development, creating a suite of videos or stepping in to manage a communications team for a government agency while their director is on leave.

In the past year, I’ve led the development of a new brand identity for a Sydney University research group, written a winning tourism award entry for the Royal Australian Mint, helped raise the profile of the National Wine Show of Australia, led the communications approach for the Organ and Tissue Authority’s major public awareness campaign and shaped the narrative for Soldier On’s new support programs.

I’ve learnt something new with each of these projects, and the others that have come my way. That’s the beauty of it for me – the continual process of learning and being able to use the skills I developed over many years in my ‘previous life’ to help make a difference for my clients.

Can you tell us about one of your career highlights?

I’ve been lucky enough to have had many highlights so far:

  • Leading the development of the multi-media content showcasing Vivid Sydney to the world. Long and tiring hours, but seeing the high-quality videos and photos of the festival created by our talented staff and production crews beamed across the world was incredibly satisfying.
  • Sitting in a remote monastery atop a mountain in Bhutan’s remote Phobjikha Valley as young ‘reincarnate’ monks recited their nightly prayers, for a story I was writing for The Weekend Australian. A magical, surreal, experience.
  • A highlight, but for very different reasons, was being on the 22nd floor of London’s Canary Wharf tower during a shift at the Daily Mirror when the World Trade Centre was attacked. After we were evacuated due to threats of a similar attack on us, we returned to rip up the newspaper and start again – filling it with the unfolding details of the tragedy in New York that would change the world as we knew it. I remember it like yesterday.

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

I was made redundant from a role I loved. It was shocking and upsetting, not simply from the perspective of my professional pride being dented, but because my amazing team was similarly affected.

I had two choices – to wallow in anger and self-pity over the perceived injustice, or to dust myself off, chalk it up to experience and get on with things. I chose the latter. I left that role with my head held high, knowing that my team and I had gone above and beyond to make a difference and that we were simply the collateral damage of a business decision that was beyond our control. Sometimes you just need to walk away and accept things for what they are.

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

Communications is changing at such a dizzying rate it’s hard to keep up. So many platforms, so many voices, often so little due diligence done on the content being shared. What I hope is that we find a way back from the idea that all content is good content and that truth and quality win out.

The best CEOs I’ve worked with are those who understand the value of good communications, and of supporting the communications teams within their businesses. Reputation is everything in an increasingly competitive world, so why wouldn’t you hire experts to protect it, just as you would in any other area of the business?

A common theme among many of my friends and colleagues in communications is how challenging it is to articulate our value proposition. The deep strategy, business acuity, stakeholder management skills and ability to frame a consistent narrative that will create a positive legacy is often overlooked in the mistaken view that getting more clicks on a page or a pretty marketing campaign up and running is all that’s needed to build customer loyalty. I hope that changes, but it may take a bit of time.

Who inspires you? Why?

I’m inspired by talented, passionate people who work hard at what they love. My greatest achievement in my career is having built several communications teams comprising smart, creative, funny, dedicated people. Watching them thrive in their roles and achieve amazing things has given me the greatest satisfaction. Today, I work with many of my former colleagues through my business – drawing on their creative skills and expertise to continue achieving great results together. It makes me really proud that I played a part in helping shape their careers.

What is your favourite book?

I’m a bit of a crime junkie, so I’m going with Helen Garner’s Joe Cinque’s Consolation. It’s a beautifully written book about a terrible crime that didn’t lose sight of the person at the heart of the tragedy – Joe Cinque; it must have given some comfort to his devastated family. 

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

My family have always been the most influential people in my life and my career. I’m one of three sisters and from as early as I remember, my dad told us all we could be anything we want, as long as we worked hard for it. Mum and dad instilled a strong work ethic and a respect for others, which I think is critical in anything you do. My husband Ricardo influences me every day – the most supportive man I’ve ever met who always knows when to deliver a strategic glass of wine when the going gets tough.

A bit more about Michelle…

Learn more about Michelle at www.pitchperfectmedia.com.au or  https://www.linkedin.com/in/michelle-rowe/

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