Alison is well known in Canberra communications circles, having worked in the industry for two decades and as the former President of IABC Canberra. Inspired by her kids, other communicators and recently re-elected Jacinda Ardern (who isn’t?), Alison has recently made a move into contract work. She wants all communicators to follow the interesting work, rather than chasing the next promotion and to find their ‘tribe’ of people to support them.
Where are you working?
Since February 2020, I have been working on change and communication for the Digital Futures Program at Indigenous Business Australia.
What did you do before this role?
I spent five years at KPMG in the People and Change team as a change/ communication/ stakeholder engagement/corporate affairs specialist. Prior to that, I had 14 years in APS departments in program communication roles. I started my comms career at a top-tier law firm 20 years ago.
Earlier this year, I took the plunge and began contracting for the first time. Providing strategic communication advice in these different ways has given me a unique insight into the needs of stakeholders, clients, and Government in delivering programs
What does a typical day look like for you?
Currently, I’m trying to stay across the change and communication issues of a major digital transformation at Indigenous Business Australia. I might be involved in a technical workshop with the vendor providing us with a new core banking solution, organising a consultation session with our Indigenous staff network or working through a training plan for staff on the new ICT we have coming soon. It’s very varied and dynamic – but that’s how I like it!
Can you tell us about one of your career highlights?
Over 20 years there’s been a few. Delivering the 100th birthday celebrations for IP Australia back in 2014 (I felt the pressure!), running Australian Customs agency’s Border Security television program for about a year (‘is the passenger hiding something in his luggage???’) and leading the communications stream for Department of Defence’s Future Frigate program during the $35 billion tender process.
These three come to mind for a couple of reasons – they were complex, challenging and required managing the expectations of a range of stakeholders and building relationships to deliver. Most of all, each of these were heaps of fun to be involved in, and I learnt loads from the process and the people I was working with.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
I would say managing a career and parenting when my children were young was hard – I was keen to still take on challenging projects but not miss out on spending time with my children. I learnt that you should say yes if the work interests you and figure out how to manage logistics later! My husband was supportive in helping the family manage the juggle!
What changes do you think will occur in communications over the next decade?
I think many of the changes we thought would occur ‘later’ have been fast-tracked due to COVID – particularly in the technology space. It’s forced the hand of many who thought we couldn’t work in this way (virtually, not in an office, using new technology etc). I think the economic situation for the next few years will also impact and influence how communication is delivered.
Who inspires you? Why?
It’s varied and ranges from my teenage children who are now entering into a pretty uncertain world, to my peer communicators, especially women (all the work wives I’ve loved before!) who are pushing the boundaries and doing amazing work every day.
Of course, everyone is a little bit in love with Jacinda Ardern and her kind, authentic leadership – and she’s a comms graduate, so I love her that little bit more for that!
What is your favourite book or podcast?
I’m not actually a huge podcast listener but love to listen to the national news early every morning while I run – it helps me get on top of the news cycle before I head to work.
I always have a book or two on the go and alternate between biographies and historical fiction. I recently read Into Thin Air, a first-hand account of the 1996 disastrous expedition to Everest – it was totally gripping!
Who has been the most influential person in your career? Why?
When I think about it, probably my Mum – she raised three kids (one with an intellectual disability), worked all through having kids and raising them and still found time to have her own hobbies and interests – a good all-around role model for a fulfilling life, not just a fulfilling career.
Early in my first APS comms job, I had a Director who gave me incredible autonomy and opportunities which were quite a stretch for me but also gave me such confidence that someone would trust me, and more importantly, back me up if I screwed up. That was a critical time in my early career.
If you could share one tip with other communications professionals, what would it be?
I would say my career mantra has been ‘follow the interesting work, not the career trajectory’. I have always been far more interested in roles that have meaning to me and learning opportunities, than climbing the next rung in the career ladder.
Also – find your tribe! I found mine when I joined the International Association of Business Communicators Canberra (IABC Canberra). I joined in 2015, so I could meet new comms people and share ideas. I became a board member and eventually President in 2019. I love working side by side with the other Board members to deliver events and professional development opportunities for Canberra communicators (shameless plug: it’s Members Month and it’s 25% if you join up in October!).
A little more about Alison…
Alison has 20 years working with and helping transform Government and corporate organisations focussing on domestic, international and industry issues through achieving social licence. She is passionate about delivering outcomes that make a difference.
She is accredited as a Strategic Communication Management Professional (SCMP) by the Global Communications Council and International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) Certificate of Engagement. She is a former President of the International Association of Business Communicators Canberra (IABC).
Find out more about Alison at LinkedIn.