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Comms at the heart of the City

Paula Stevens

Paula Stevens is media adviser at the City of Adelaide. She previously worked in communications roles in the finance industry and has a Master’s Degree in Journalism. Below, she tells us about her Monday routine, issues management, favourite campaigns and more …

Tell us a bit more about your job.
My role involves being the liaison between the Council and the media. One of the main aspects is issues management which involves identifying potential media issues and developing communications strategies to manage that risk. Sometimes the biggest success we have is when the City of Adelaide doesn’t get a mention in a story. My role also involves responding to enquiries and requests from the media, ie requests for information and interviews; I spend a lot of time chasing information. I also work to actively promote Council’s projects and initiatives to spread the news about all the great work that Council does. This is the fun side!

I work closely with the Lord Mayor to brief him and prepare him for media interviews while also making sure that he is aware of council-related media stories that appear and is prepared with information to enable him to respond if needed.

What does your typical Monday look like?
The first thing I do every day is check my media monitoring emails to see what is happening in media-land and if the City of Adelaide is being mentioned, or if anything that may impact upon Council is being talked or written about. Generally, I would know that a City of Adelaide story is hitting the media the day before it appears as I would have worked with a journalist on it, so I know to expect those early morning calls from breakfast radio, and that my day will be busy!

I also check social media, read the paper, and listen to breakfast radio before leaving the house.

Mondays can get quite hectic – the team and I would firstly catch up with whoever was on call over the weekend to go over anything that happened. We meet with the Lord Mayor and CEO every Monday morning to talk about current media issues, any potential media issues, and PR opportunities for the week ahead. This meeting is a great opportunity to get a download from the Lord Mayor as to what is on his mind media-wise. It’s also our chance to offer him our advice and ideas.

I know to expect those early morning calls from
breakfast radio, and that my day will be busy!

Council meetings are Tuesday nights so Monday is also spent reading last-minute Council papers (I have usually read most of the papers well before they are public). I would also finalise any media strategies or releases in relation to papers that will be of media interest.

The rest of the day is spent working on whatever media management or promotional campaigns I have on the go. I finish the day by riding my bike to the gym to do a kick boxing class – it’s great stress release!

What are the major differences between your role in local government, and someone working in more promotional PR, say for a retail or food brand?
The major difference is the political aspect of working in local government. This requires a solid understanding of Adelaide’s political environment, as well as an understanding of the politics within Council.

Issues management is also a major part of the role. This means always trying to be a step ahead and understanding what the media will look for and the angle they are likely to take, and how I can work with them to generate a more positive outcome (which isn’t always possible!). I enjoy working through complex and difficult issues, and those reactive days when I need to think and plan quickly keep me on my toes.

Being at the centre of all that happens in the city
is an amazing opportunity and a real privilege.

Another big difference is the incredibly vast range of topics and issues that I am involved in. I really enjoy the amazing variety of my work. The areas I look after cover everything from city safety (which ranges from liquor licencing, homelessness, food safety, community safety, among many others), parking (an area that gets people really riled up!), planning and development, sustainability, events, art, culture and live music, library and community events, and so much more. I have learnt a hell of a lot over the years at council about so many different aspects of the city, and I really enjoy promoting the great work council does. Being at the centre of all that happens in the city is an amazing opportunity and a real privilege. I also get to meet some very interesting people.

In your role, you would need to keep up the news – tell us about your media consumption habits.
I am a voracious media consumer! I read The Advertiser, Adelaide Now and InDaily every day as they are the main publications that cover Council news. I also subscribe to local publications like CityMag, Glam Adelaide, Broadsheet, Fritz magazine, The Lead, as well as national and niche news sites and publications that relate to the areas I manage. I listen to local radio stations in the morning and during the day.

I logon to social media first thing in the morning, and keep my eye on it all day as it is often the first place that breaking news appears. I follow all Adelaide radio and TV stations, online publications, as well as individual journalists, many news-related pages, as well as anything related to Adelaide (including those pages that like to have a bit of fun with our peculiar Adelaide-isms). I do try to restrict my viewing of social media in the evening and on the weekends when I’m not on call to give myself a break mentally, and also to focus on spending time with my husband, friends and family.

Paula Stevens, Adelaide City Council

In my spare time, I tend to read publications that are not specifically related to Adelaide (ie The Age, The Saturday Paper, The Monthly) to get a broader understanding of national and global issues and events. I switch off with home decorating magazines, as well as the occasional fashion magazine. I also love books so that’s what I read in bed at night and on weekends when I need to wind down, and I love music so listen to a lot of it.

Can you tell us about an ACC campaign or communications project you’ve enjoyed working on?
There have been so many that it’s hard to narrow it down! Working on the Adelaide Oval redevelopment project was pretty amazing. It was such a huge project with so many stakeholders, and it was exciting to be part of a project that has had such an impact on Adelaide.

Working on the Park Lands dry zone project has given me a better understanding of the issues and struggles homeless people face and a deeper understanding of the complexities. It was quite eye -opening. I worked on the launch of our Smart Move strategy which gave me an insight into how passionate Adelaide people are about transport, in many different ways! It was a very complex strategy and involved a lot of planning and work to successfully launch it.

What advice would you give a third-year university student who’s keen to work in communications?Consume lots of media to get an understanding of what journalists write about and what piques their interest. Do work experience in the media to understand how it works and what journalists look for and pick up on. Understand the environment you want to work in and don’t be afraid to ask questions, ever. It’s how you learn.

Time for a fun question: what’s your dream holiday and why?
I love cities, food, wine, and music, so it would have to involve those things. At the moment I’m really keen to go to  New York and Austin, and I’d also love to go to Reykjavik. I’ve also always dreamt of seeing the Northern Lights. I do enjoy being in mountains and forests, especially in the winter, and relaxing by the seaside for a little while is rather nice, so I’d add a bit of that in too!