Tears, fears and cheers to strategic communications

 

It’s time for the communications industry to beat burnout and build boardroom bridges, writes PR leader Ava Lawler.

How can a communications professional tell it is getting close to Christmas? Because of the number of stress-filled tears that fill the bathroom. And this is not a joke.

As the tempo increases at year end, exhaustion takes a grip. Stressed individuals communicate with less diplomacy and anxious recipients respond with more emotion. Overwhelmed leaders dealing with demanding deadlines are navigating outcomes through a sea of turmoiled emotions. Christmas is not the only cluster f*** of emotional and deadline overload, but it is the most consistent. And every year we plan for it to be easier, only to be clawing our way to the summer break.

For me, leadership has often felt like it was granted because I was the ‘last person standing’. Over the years, I have seen so many talented colleagues depart the sector for less stressful pastures. This loss of expertise has sapped our industry of strength and weakens our impact in the boardroom. The senior people left behind are overloaded with increasing responsibility to coach new entrants and firefight issues that result from overloaded and under-qualified teams managing heavier workloads and higher responsibilities. Our people are weakened by shrinking resources, intensifying media complexity and broadening responsibilities. As a result burnout is burgeoning – this is dampening our creative spirit, weakening our executive influence and crippling our coaching capabilities.

The shameful acts revealed by the recent (and upcoming) Royal Commissions are testament to the fact that professional communicators are not persuading organisations and executives to listen to their stakeholders. We are not leading their businesses to become purpose-driven organisations and we are not empowering employees to have a say and direct better outcomes.

I have always felt very fortunate to have a true passion for our craft. I have always believed in the potential powerful stories have as a force for good. It has been an honour to work with so many talented souls through the clients I have been privileged to serve and to partner with colleagues to crack those creative challenges!

However, I almost joined the rapidly moving exit path from our industry last year. In 2017, I nursed my mother through terminal cancer and finished the year broken. As the new year began I picked up the pieces, but struggled to put them back together. I had not only lost my mother, but my greatest cheerleader and confidante. Leading a large agency requires energy and I struggled to muster the enthusiasm my team and clients deserved. So I left. I healed and I re-energised. Through this period, I was intent to discover a new way to work with courage and collaboration. So, I met with my mentors, friends and ex-colleagues to explore new possibilities.

And this is how The Possibility Partnership was formed.

I was very fortunate to find other industry leaders keen to embark on industry change. Senior execs who were will willing to take a gamble and invest in a new-model consulting and holding company to provide a true helping hand to our industry’s senior leadership.

The Possibility Partnership will be partnering with in-house executives to help them step more powerfully into their boardrooms to deliver outcomes based on purpose, people and profit. Agency leaders will finally have the business and leadership support they need so they can focus on client opportunity and team development. And we will turbo boost the performance of selected agency businesses by partnering with them to provide deep business, finance and people expertise. They will also enjoy a community of useful companionship – a supportive home even – to alleviate the loneliness and frustration that often accompanies agency leadership.

The Possibility Partnership will provide the leadership support: that holding companies fail miserably to deliver to their subsidiaries; and that smaller agencies find impossible to fund. And we will fill the strategic consulting gap that has been left by the exodus of senior consultants.

Tim Parker joins as Chairman, bringing over 30 years’ global experience from advertising and digital agencies, as well as being CEO of an ASX-listed technology company. Andy Bigham is arguably the most experienced agency finance director in Australia. Gabrielle Tourelle brings forth a unique combination of global HR, talent development, employee engagement and communications capabilities. And Alex Brooks is one of the most capable digital content editors in the country.

Together we will consult with, and coach, senior executives (client-side and agency) to help develop the authority, creativity and smarts needed to crack open the boardroom and seek the budgets our discipline deserves.

We are an industry dominated by young vibrant talent. We are incredibly fortunate that every year new graduates with creative energy and new, needed skills enter our workplaces. However, it is the seeping of senior talent that leaves them disappointed and in disarray. Our industry needs more role models who can direct boardrooms and liberate the potential of people, profits and the planet. We need to negotiate more effectively for resources and respect so that we build real relationships between organisations and their stakeholders. We need to have our say to prevent another Royal Commission from spoiling everyone’s day.


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Ava was PR Leader of the Year in 2016 and 2017 and is skilled at building brands and developing story platforms that engage across earned and owned media channels.

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Ava Lawler