“I might have actually helped to save a life through one of the safety messages I created.”
I am a writer, currently working as a Communications Advisor at the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR).
My family emigrated to Australia 25 years ago, when I was eight. From an early age, I enjoyed writing and literature. An early success that I can remember was winning a spelling contest in primary school, having been in the country for only 6 months. So it was nice to know that I’ve got a strength in a particular area.
In high school I did a lot of humanities subjects – literature, history, English: I felt like I could express myself best through these subjects.
My initial idea after school was to become a journalist, but I didn’t get in to the course I wanted. It was pretty competitive back then. There was an option to do a full-pay course, but it was out of reach for me.
I ended up doing a communications degree at Monash University.
Whilst I enjoyed the writing part of it, I decided to major in PR and philosophy. I’ve always been a media junkie; I always read the newspapers, followed business and politics.
When I was graduating, it was hard to find a job with little experience. I started off at the Franchise Council of Australia. It actually turned out to be more of a sales job and I hated it.
Then I found a job with a media company that required me to analyze what was written by the media about certain clients – Toyota, for example. I would look at what sort of coverage they were getting, what issues were emerging. Then I would prepare a newsletter with related content, and the client’s PR department would use it in their work.
For that job, I had to start work at 4 in the morning, which was horrendous.
This was because the clients were located in other time zones, and by 6 or 7 o’clock they needed to have the content ready.
I did that for a couple of years. It was a family-owned company in South Melbourne, and I loved the team and the area. I remember there was a little cafe nearby, run by an elderly couple that kind of adopted me and fed me every morning – I have a fond memory of them. It was hard saying goodbye to them when we moved locations.
By 2008 I decided that I wanted to get into the government.
I wanted to work in an area where I could make a difference, as opposed to just chasing money. Finding a job was very hard because it was in the middle of the global financial crisis. People were looking to get our of private sector, so it was very competitive.
My first public sector job was with the Victorian Taxi Directorate, which is now known as the Taxi Services Commission, which acts as a regulator for the taxi industry.
My job was Communications Officer – I did a lot of writing; produced newsletters, website copy, media releases. We used all available channels to get the message out there to ensure everyone – mainly the drivers and the passengers – did the right thing.
For instance, when fare refusal was an issue, we had to put together a campaign explaining to the drivers that fare refusal was illegal. We used the media, websites, news articles and industry publications.
That was the hardest job I’d had so far.
The industry was in a pretty tough spot at the time, and we had to work hard to keep up with the changes. The Taxi Services Commission had a very difficult relationship with the industry- all the stakeholders hated it. I spent about three years there and decided it was time for a change.
There was an opening for a similar job at Transport Safety Victoria. I applied and got it. I stayed on the same level of hierarchy, but it was a nice change.
TSV was a different sort of environment – still a regulator – but the culture was much better. They had a better rapport with the industry, which made things easier. The job itself was a lot like the previous one, however. I stayed another few years, honing my Communication skills.
About two years ago, in a major department restructure, a new team was set up in the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources – the department in which TSV sat. There was an opening for a more senior Communications role, so I went for it.
This is the role I have now, working with strategic communications. It’s definitely more interesting and demanding, there’s more clients, more scrutiny about what we do – it is a bit of a fishbowl environment.
I develop communications to support the Minister for Industry and Employment – anything to do with automotive industry, defence and construction.
For instance, the Minister goes out to announce a grant to a business. My job is to put together all the communications for that.
You extract all the info you need – how much money, what does the grant involve, what are the benefits, how is it consistent with what the government is doing. Then you add a more personal flavour, try to weave in something more interesting in there. For example, if the minister had visited the place in question personally – can we add that to the communication?
There’s quite a bit of research involved.
You find out how many staff the business has, what is interesting about it, if they are expanding, building infrastructure, adding jobs. It’s what makes the announcement interesting, creates the “wow” effect. There has to be a purpose, and it has to be announced in the most interesting way.
We do a little bit of social media, but not that much. I also try to do some strategic communications work. Let’s say, a business is closing down – I will work with the team to develop some lines or a statement, so when the issue unfolds, the minister is prepared and has everything he needs to talk about the issue.
Ultimately the job is about supporting what the minister does in his day-to-day work.
It’s a very challenging role – the deadlines are tight, you have to be good at working under the pressure.
You need to be able to get material out very fast, but not at the expense of accuracy and quality. You have to be careful, but also efficient. And you need to be aware of the things going on around you. It’s important to provide context to everything. 90% of the job is reading, writing, researching.
As a public servant, I’m independent of any party affiliations. Anyone who works for a department takes a pledge to be neutral. The people who work at the minister’s office are political, that’s where the line is. We just provide the advice and material, and then they use it as they see fit, and they can put a political angle on it.
If the minister changes, the government changes, but my job remains the same. My job is to help them sell their message, whatever it is.
I like being able to see the fruits of my labour.
I feel job satisfaction when I hear the Minister deliver my words, or they get picked up by the media. It’s always been the best part of the job.
I guess I feel like I’m making a difference. Naturally, mostly it’s the government making a difference through its policies. I’m there to help them promote it. Though I think I felt I was making more of a difference in the Transport Safety Victoria. There, I could say I might have actually helped to save a life through one of the safety messages I created.
In this position there’s a slightly different focus – industry and jobs.
Can I say that I’ve created jobs? No, because it’s the programs and policies that create jobs. My job is to promote them, effectively to make the government look good. It’s a combination of policy work, knowledge of local issues, but it also brings out my writing, so it all comes together.
I’d love to be a writer, but it’s hard to make a living that way. I’ve always had a dream to use my skills in a more interesting area, use my PR skills to do something cool – for an emerging artist or a musician.
To be honest, the content of my government work can be quite dry, and you can’t make it too exciting.
I’ve been told that my job is to make things “sexy”, but it doesn’t work with everything.
I might do something on the side down the track. I’m thinking of approaching a local theatre company or a musical gig. A lot of these artists want and need the support. But then there is also the reality of paying a mortgage, so it’s not something I could jump into full time. But if I could start doing this, eventually it could lead me on a path of working with someone incredible, travelling the world.
I’ve always been told that university is the way to go after high school, but I don’t think it is.
For engineering or medicine the story might be different, but as a writer, what I should have done is go straight into the workforce as an intern and then work my way up. If the organization saw value in me, they would have invested in my education anyway. I could have done practical courses, instead of doing a university degree and paying out of my own pocket.
University gives you a bit of help. I did four years, including the graduate diploma.
Was that a good investment of time? Maybe.
But I’ve lost four years of work experience and earning, which would have been very handy to have. After the university you have to compete with so many people just trying to get their foot in the door, and it gets brutal.
The best quality that I have is being resilient and persistent. You almost have to learn to take rejections and setbacks, go through with it and keep going.
I’ve been in the field for 10-11 years now. Will I be doing this forever – I’m not sure. But I know that I can easily transfer my skills elsewhere. In government, there is scope to go higher up. My next step would be a junior manager, and then you go up, managing more and more people.
I think I would make a good manager because I’ve always played leadership roles, enjoyed the responsibility, giving direction, mentoring. I don’t think I’m quite ready yet, but in a few years – who knows?
I’ve always been a risk-averse person, and I realize now that I probably should have taken more risks.
For example, this is my third job in 9 years, and in my field people move around more. If you work in big departments, you can explore different areas.
My advice is – don’t be reckless or over-realistic, but try to take opportunities and get exposure to different areas. It’s good for your career long-term. I should have started doing it earlier.
Another important thing is building a reputation.
If you mistreat people, the word gets out there, and it can really compromise your future career chances. People need to bear in mind that it’s a very small world out there.
My industry is hard. I wouldn’t go in it if you’re chasing money, it’s more of a labour of love. It can be stressful, but at the same time there is a lot of satisfaction possible.