Alice Minney has been on the frontline of PR and communications for close to 20 years – from “a green young PR dogsbody” at (the former) Turnbull Porter Novelli to her current role as Senior Account Manager at McCo Group. Alice tell us “In between I’ve enjoyed all the diversity that a career in PR has to offer. I was lucky enough to work in London as in-house PR counsel to mega brands like American Express and DHL, before I came back to Adelaide almost seven years ago, pregnant with twins, to be closer to family. At McCo I work with a small, dedicated team, which means my job involves a great mix of strategy as well as day-to-day tactical PR and communications activities”.
You’ve worked in a variety of comms settings over the years: local government, internal comms, agency and more. For clients – what are the advantages of using an agency as opposed to having in-house comms adviser?
Having worked on both sides of the fence, I see the main three benefits of working with an agency to be:
1. Getting independent, objective strategy. It’s not always an ‘either-or’ scenario. More often than not there is in-house expertise, and the advantage there is that an agency partner can help guide and complement that resource. Especially in the situation where a comms advisor internally is working in isolation, or in a team with a long list of demands, internal pressures and sometimes competing priorities.
2. It sounds like a bit of a cliché, but it’s true: they’ll have the whole team at their agency working for them. We all share opinions and ideas, so a client is getting the perspectives of a diverse group of people with a lot of expertise between them. I think this is under-estimated, but from my previous experience I found that having a number of heads working for you – and all of that collective experience – was a definite advantage.
3. The client will also get the advantage of a working relationship with media and the contacts. Agency consultants are usually working day in day out with a variety of media (journalists, producers, bloggers), on behalf of clients across a range of areas and locations. More than likely, the client or in-house comms advisor just won’t have that expertise, or day to day relationship with such a variety of media contacts. In my former in-house roles that was always a major benefit of working with my agency partners.
McCo delivers all sorts of work for clients – publicity, video production, marketing – is there a particular task you enjoy the most?
Yes, we do a mix of things, it just comes down to what the need is and how best it can be achieved – so activities and strategies really do vary from client to client and can be very diverse!
I mainly enjoy the planning process – developing a plan, collaborating with partners, implementing, and seeing results and their impact. I also enjoy the task of writing and publicity process: finding the stories, deciding on the best angle(s), pitching and discussing a story concept with a journalist and getting them just as interested as you are, then working with them to deliver a great outcome.
When we have a team meeting or brainstorm,
everything is off the record and we can all speak our mind
What’s the structure like at McCo? Tell us a bit about the team and how you divide work or specialities amongst yourselves.
We have a good mix of people with quite a range of experience and expertise between us. We’re a relatively small team of eight people, which includes one person (Jess), based permanently in Geelong and one (Silvia) who is currently on maternity leave. I would describe the structure as quite flat and agile. Work is shared, for the most part, according to capacity and skill set. There is of course an official pecking order: Leigh as our company principal is the boss, with David Heath our Government Strategist acting as Account Director and leading the team, as Leigh divides her time between Adelaide and Melbourne and Geelong. However, being a small team and having a fairly informal working environment means we all support each other and work together: sharing tasks, giving second opinions on drafts, bouncing ideas and solving problems together – on pretty much every single account. Having a mostly open plan office environment and a casual, non-hierarchical approach has driven this.
I do like being in an environment where we can all throw comments and ideas into the mix. When we have a team meeting or brainstorm, everything is off the record and we can all speak our mind, which can sometimes make for lively and sometimes politically incorrect discussions!
Can you tell us about a campaign you’ve enjoyed working on?
There are two projects last year which stood out. One was the annual Carols by Candlelight event for Novita Children’s services – it was great to help tell the stories of some amazing and inspiring children, and their families, through a much-loved community event.
I was also part of a small team delivering a marcomms plan leading up to a major annual sailing event in Victoria, an industry I’d had no previous experience in. I enjoyed immersing myself in something outside of my comfort zone and getting the chance to do different activities for an organisation, such as engaging with a diverse range of people connected to the project, such as national celebs/media personalities, local, international and specialist media, tourism executives, and sailing folk. Having my name printed as a byline in an industry blog was a buzz. It was an interesting and exciting event to be part of, and ultimately a great success. It was great being able to make a valuable impact and help deliver the results.
Tell us about your time in PR in the United Kingdom. What motivated you to work there?
Since my late teens I’d wanted to experience life in another country and had always been attracted to London. I have British parentage so was fortunate to be able to live and work without restrictions, and I was also lucky to have friends and some family over there which made the move easier.
It certainly was a fantastic and character building experience! I’m so glad I did it, even though quitting a job and leaving your home and life behind can be daunting. As you’d expect there is a huge variety of PR work in the UK, so there are great opportunities to learn a heck of a lot. I loved it. For anyone considering it, I’d say do it. Even if it doesn’t officially help your career ‘on paper’ (some Australian employers don’t really care about what you did in another country), you’ll definitely grow and benefit from the experience. And the employers who matter will see that experience is experience, regardless of where you got it.
When I went to the UK I worked firstly in-house at a local authority in South London, which is more similar to state government here. My role was to support various portfolio areas to fill gaps in the press office team, including Adult Social Services, Children and Young People and Environment & Leisure. We had the chance to tell some really great stories, as well as deal with the odd crisis and plenty of dramas. I will never forget the day a tabloid reporter used a hidden microphone stuffed down his shirt and caught out a Council staffer involved in a scam to fleece some extra rental income!
I then worked in-house doing internal comms for American Express, which was a much slower pace but great work, plus I loved being in the heart of Victoria in London, on Buckingham Palace Road in a prominent building that, at the time, was shared with Google.
The speed of the industry, the news cycle, the volume of media
and communications channels over there was inspiring and motivating
My career highlight over there was working for transport and logistics giant DHL, where I spent two years as media relations manager for their Express Parcels division in the UK, in charge of a busy press office. It was a very large, complex organisation, the market leader in Europe, operating an airline business and also working alongside five other co-branded businesses in the same market. It involved not only reactive and proactive PR, which was stimulating in itself, but a huge part was doing the job whilst collaborating with a big group of internal stakeholders, including the German owners, Deutsche Post DHL.
It did take a while to land a good job in England. I found that I needed to be there for at least two years before I was taken seriously by potential employers and agencies looking to fill roles. There was certainly an attitude that as an Australian you won’t be there long term and therefore won’t be committed. I hadn’t been expecting that. I had to prove myself first and really had to hustle to get the Council job and then American Express so soon after I’d arrive. Both roles were through agencies where landing the jobs was more about tenacity, timing and a bit of good luck.
I learned a huge amount in this job and my others whilst in the UK, as well as made some great friends and was lucky to connect with some amazing people who are passionate about their work and who I remain in contact with. The experiences I had over there reinforced my belief that good communications is good communications, no matter where you are in the world, and that in this business, one of your greatest assets is your gut.
The speed of the industry, the news cycle, the volume of media and communications channels over there was inspiring and motivating. Another great opportunity is that in the UK, and especially in London, the Communications roles are far more specialised. There is that ability to focus on one thing that really interests you. Whereas in Adelaide it’s a lot more common for positions to be more generalist.
I also experienced the issue of having to always consider the work commute and the impact to your life. Not so relevant here! In London at DHL I had about an hour and fifteen minutes’ drive each way each day, sometimes a lot more. Over there it didn’t feel so bad, but now I’m lucky enough to live 15 minutes away from work which I can really appreciate!
What advice would you give a third-year university student who’s keen to work in PR?
I think it’s very important to seek and use every chance you can get to learn, learn, and learn… especially from people with experience and knowledge. Go out and get as much work experience as you can wherever you can – even if it’s not in the industry you want to work in, or doing the tasks you’ve been studying – understand that every opportunity is valuable.
Having a positive attitude is absolutely critical.
Offer to do anything: making coffees, filing, basically whatever needs doing, so that you can soak up the atmosphere. Find any way to work next to someone you can learn from and be committed to listening, watching and learning. Live and breathe their work goals and tasks, watch what they do and how they do it, practice it yourself. Show the people you’re working alongside that you can and will provide support and jump in wherever needed.
Don’t be afraid to try your hand at anything, and always approach any task and situation with enthusiasm and positivity. Make sure you double and triple check your own work before handing it in to a superior – and then check again. Follow the news, sign up to niche publications – but most of all, find out what sectors and industry areas you’re interested in and passionate about.
Having a positive attitude is absolutely critical. I feel that not everyone realises that a university degree can’t take the place of learning on the job – and good opportunities are rare and competitive to get! Learning on the job has been a huge and very invaluable part of my career.
Time for a fun question: if you could work in any other profession, what would it be?
That’s actually a tough question!
Above all, I love interacting and working with people, and especially fellow ‘comms heads’ – so I think this is actually the only profession for me.
However, I would have liked to be a Psychologist. Or, if I could design my dream job now, it would be to work in the fitness industry, somewhere warm, (preferably with an ocean view, haha!), doing a great mix of indoor and outdoor training and applying PR principles of course, with a short work commute and working with a great bunch of interesting people (preferably communications and marketing professionals, journalists and psychologists).