Comms Corner with Ross Monaghan

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This week, we’re at Deakin Downtown with a group of university students helping us promote the Aussie Backyard Bird Count. Their mentor is the award-winning educator from Deakin Ross Monaghan (AKA @themediapod). Enjoy our chat with Ross. 

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Ross hams it up during a visit with some of his PR students to the National Gallery of Victoria

Your elevator statement – who are you professionally and personally?

I’m a communication lecturer and passionate about helping great students launch their career.

Tell us about your typical day in communications?

Like most communicators, no two days are the same for me. Some days I’ll be delivering a lecture, marking assignments and meeting with students one-on-one to help them find the perfect internship, other days I’ll be leading a study tour or industry project that will help students gain better industry insights.

When did you first know you wanted to work in communications?

I became passionate about communication a few second before I asked the editor of the Warrnambool Standard for a job as a copy boy. I was in year 11 at the time and wanted a new surf ski. I was introduced to him by Warrnambool’s Mayor at the time, Toni McCormack, who had given me the role of PR officer for the Warrnambool City Junior Council.

Who’s your communication hero/mentor?

I’ve been lucky enough to have a number of great mentors throughout my career. At the top of the list would be John Bown who was the Public Affairs Manager at BHP’s Port Kembla steelworks in the 1990s. He was an “old school” practitioner (who once infamously pushed a Channel 7 camera operator during a Greenpeace raid on the steelworks) but was willing to embrace my ideas and push to introduce new technology such as desktop publishing in to the communications department.

Which tools can’t you live without?

The espresso machine. Once I’ve had my morning coffee, I can deal with anything.

What are the biggest challenges in your role?

Keeping in contact in a meaningful way with the hundreds of students, alumni, co-workers and industry colleagues that I call friends. Each year my network grows as hundreds of students graduate and begin their communication career. I catch-up regularly with many of them, but not as often as I’d like.

Tell us about the best campaign you’ve ever worked on?

This is an easy question for me. I spent many years in the steel industry. Heavy industry is extremely dangerous, and large employers with thousands of employees on one site rarely go more than a few days without a lost time injury – that’s an injury so bad that an employee has to miss at least one day of work. I think the record before the campaign was about four days. My research indicated that many employees weren’t concerned about being so injured that they’d have to spend time at home. They’d be home, and being paid after all! I decided to video interview a range of employees who had been injured. Many broke down in tears on camera explaining that they were in constant pain, on day-shift pay rates (without significant night penalties and overtime rates) meaning many had lost their homes, and some resulting in family breakdowns. It was very emotional, and I was very grateful that the injured employees were happy to share their story. When I first showed it to the GM, a former crew supervisor at the steelworks, he cried, and demanded that every supervisor in the works must see it within 24 hour, and all employees within the next week. The result was that the steelworks went without a lost time injury for about three months.

What’s been the biggest change to communication/marketing/public relations since you began your career?

I began my career as a journalist using a manual typewriter. That, and the fact that I rode a dinosaur to work, are the biggest changes.

If you had to cut/keep something in your communication budget, what would it be?

If I had a budget…

What quality do you look for in your communication team members?

A good ethical compass. Sometimes the truth might be ugly, but it’s still the truth.

What’s your favourite brand?

BHP will probably always be my favourite brand. Whilst it’s not the company it was in the 1990s, BHP has played such a vital role in Australia’s development and progress, and much of that has largely gone unrecognised.

What tips do you wish you’d known starting out in communications?

That listening is the most important skill in communication.

You have two ears and one mouth and you should use them in that proportion.

Finish this sentence: ‘Communication is…’

Communication is a two-way process.

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