Chip Henriss has recently swapped the chilly Melbourne winters for Queensland sunshine with a new role at CQUniversity. He uses his diverse communications background to build and maintain relationships between CQ University, government and industry.
Your elevator statement – who are you professionally and personally?
I’m currently working as the Government Relations Adviser to the Vice Chancellor at CQUniversity. I was a major in the Australian Army Public Relations Service and I also have a background in journalism, communications and social justice and I use a combination of these experiences to bring a coordinating campaigning approach to my work.
Tell us about your typical day in communications?
Throughout my career there has been nothing typical about a day in communications. I had times where I was flying in helicopters over a devastated Dili, the capital of East Timor, or taking journalists scuba diving to show them threats to the Great Barrier Reef. On the other side of the coin I’ve had to struggle through the production of annual reports and write news releases and talking points. These days I’m on a steep learning curve getting to know new politicians and build relationships around securing funding to make higher education more accessible to more people.
When did you first know you wanted to work in communications?
I’ve always been an extrovert and I knew I wanted to work with people. I come from a working-class background and never had a real interest in cars or other job prospects that were made available to us. After moving to Australia in 1987 I had the opportunity to go to university. I was accepted into journalism and I guess, from there, I never looked back.
Who’s your communication hero/mentor?
There have been many over the years. Lt Col (Ret) Robert Barnes AO has always been a big brother to me. He really helped show me how to remain calm when everything is falling down around you. He was always loyal to a fault even when people and organisations weren’t. Also Bruce Kingston, who was my boss at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. He showed me how to run campaigns. Under his guidance we were able to protect up 33 per cent of the marine park from extractive practices like commercial fishing. I’m also a big fan of the American Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Christopher Hedges and then there’s always the great Australian Phil Dickie who won a Walkley for his work in exposing corruption in Queensland which led to the Fitzgerald Inquiry.
Which tools can’t you live without?
I love video. My American accent kept me out of broadcast journalism in Australia but I would have loved to have been a broadcast journalist. I use video whenever possible.
What are the biggest challenges in your role?
Stepping on toes is always a worry. In large organisations it’s often a challenge to work with people and manage boundaries and relationships.
Tell us about the best campaign you’ve ever worked on?
I guess it would be the re-zoning of the Great Barrier Reef, which occurred from around 2002 to 2004. It achieved a protection of more than 33 per cent of the marine park from extractive activities like commercial fishing. It was also the largest community consultation process in Australian history up to that point. We were really battling in those days to convince people that the reef was under pressure. There were still a lot of climate change deniers out there and people were afraid they wouldn’t be able to go fishing anymore. In the end it was a great step but there’s so much more that needs to be done.
Which campaign do you most admire?
Probably a little known campaign for the repeal of the intervention measures against Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. There were a few groups working against the apartheid-like intervention measures and a group of mostly older people called Concerned Australians have done some amazing awareness rasing on the issue.
What’s been the biggest change to communication/marketing/public relations since you began your career?
Obviously social media. When I began, we didn’t have the internet. We were the first class at the University of Southern Queensland to transition from type writers and copy paper to little mac computers. I began using the internet in 1995. In 1997 I helped develop the Australian Army’s first operational web page during drought relief work in Papua New Guinea. It’s hard to imagine doing anything without the internet these days.
If you had to cut/keep something in your communication budget, what would it be?
That’s difficult because it all depends on the outcomes you’re trying to achieve. Now that I’m in government relations I need different tools than I did in organisational communications. Right now face to face communications is very important. Travelling to meet politicians, candidates and decision makers is something we couldn’t do without.
What quality do you look for in your communication team members?
Enthusiasm for what we are trying to accomplish. I have very little time for individuals and people who can’t share credit and blame. People who are real team workers and co-operators rather than competitors are who I would choose.
What’s your favourite brand?
Too hard. I like a lot of the Craft Beer brands out there. Mountain Goat is a good one along with Stone and Wood. Unfortunately so many brands are being bought out by the big players that they are losing their meaning to me and other beer fanatics.
What book/blog do you think every communicator should read?
Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman.
What tips do you wish you’d known starting out in communications?
You can make a living working for NGOs and people doing good things in the world.
Finish this sentence: Communication is... not the wank you think it is! It’s a force multiplier.