Telum Talks To… Jim Stiliadis, Director, Six O’Clock Advisory

Six O’Clock Advisory Director, Jim Stiliadis, was recently featured on ‘Telum Talks To…’ discussing our partnership with RMIT, the current communications landscape and his experience in corporate communications and public affairs.

Interview republished with permission from Telum Media:

Six O’Clock Advisory recently partnered with RMIT to offer internship opportunities for students. Can you tell us a bit about the partnership? 
Our partnership with RMIT is a result of our firm wanting to take a lead when it comes to creating opportunities for the industry’s emerging talent. RMIT is recognised as a leader when it comes to producing excellent graduates across the communication fields.

We’re strong on the notion of working with good people, inside and outside our firm, and this includes fostering opportunities for the next generation of industry professionals. As they graduate and come into the workforce, we think it’s important to provide opportunities for up-and-coming talent and expose them to the type of work that we do. The communications discipline comes in many forms, particularly in the modern-day information age. We do things in a particular way and we provide certain services and expertise on behalf of our clients, so it’s important that we offer young people coming through exposure to the way we go about it.

You have more than 25 years’ experience in corporate communications and public affairs. How has the communications landscape changed since you started working in this space?
There are aspects that have fundamentally changed, certainly in the past decade or so. We are effectively working to what is a 24-hour, seven-day information cycle. The rise of the smartphone means that essentially anyone has the potential to be a publisher – they can shoot, click and create content virtually at will. It has changed the way people consume information, and it’s certainly opened up a whole new world for corporates when it comes to telling their stories.

For all of that, there’s an argument to say that so-called traditional media channels have gained a sort of premium status, particularly as newsrooms get smaller and industry consolidation takes hold. That is, despite audiences continuing to move social and digital platforms as a primary source of information, there is still an inherent credibility that comes with traditional news coverage and analysis. In fact, you can argue that it’s standing has increased in some ways, in that it’s taken on an even more important role in the overall mix of news and information.

Overall, it means that communication professionals need to be attuned to the modern-day communications landscape, how it’s constantly evolving and be able to respond to the needs of organisations in that context.

How have communications strategies and practices had to evolve in order to adapt to these changes?
People have more information at their fingertips than they’ve ever had. It means that organisations have had to become more flexible and innovative in how they engage with different audiences, finding a way to ensure their stories resonate among the noise and clutter that comes with access to a multitude of channels. Being able to deploy the right channels, at the right time, to reach the right people in a compelling way, has become a complex challenge for communicators.

Ultimately, however, it always comes back to the strength of the story you’re trying to tell. It’s a premise that holds true regardless of who you’re speaking to or how you’re seeking to get the message across. Does it matter to the people you’re trying to reach or influence? It’s a question that sits at the heart of any communication challenge or opportunity.

What do you think it takes to be successful in PR today?
There are clearly some basic technical skills that are fundamental to any professional communicator. The ability to write for different audiences, the ability to take different and sometimes complex concepts and translate them for different audiences. That’s always been important, and it remains so.

Beyond that, it’s the intangible attributes that hold people in good stead. The ability to read the play and identify emerging risks or issues is a skill that can’t be underrated. Good judgment is critical. When does it make sense to initiate a certain course of action? And, being able to bring both an emotional and intellectual understanding to an issue or challenge. That can mean being able to see and understand an issue through the eyes of people who are at the coalface, and being able to bring an impartial view to what it means and how they might respond.

What do you think is keeping your clients up at night?
The operating environment across every industry sector has changed dramatically in recent years. Never have the concepts of trust, ethics and reputation been in greater focus than they are now, and they’re certainly right up there in terms of strategic considerations for boards and senior executives.

We’ve seen it play out in the form of various royal commissions and government inquiries across areas like aged care and financial services, and virtually every sector has been affected in one form or another by misconduct scandals. Think sport, education, and the like.

The conversation has fundamentally shifted and there’s an expectation in the community that organisations should be serving the needs and interests of all their stakeholders in equal part.

What opportunities do you expect PRs to be dealing with over the next few years?
Strategic communication, issues management and effective engagement with different stakeholders – that has always been important when it comes to engaging effectively with customers, consumers, government, regulators and other industry stakeholders. In the context of what we’ve just talked about, those things have become even more important.

Building and maintaining organisational trust goes far beyond whether a company is making headlines. What has become increasingly relevant is the ability for organisations to engage directly and equally with all of the relevant influencers and stakeholders that can and do affect the fortunes of a business. To that end, we’re seeing a convergence of sorts between the communications, risk management, and people and culture functions. If those areas are working in sync, it generally leads to a better approach when it comes to an organisation’s brand reputation. It’s something that’s become more important in recent years, particularly as the media landscape has continued to fragment.

What would be your best piece of advice for anyone starting in PR tomorrow?
The first piece of advice that I’d give to young people looking to work in this industry is to expose themselves to as many different parts of the profession as possible. There are many different layers and dimensions to what PR and communications is about. It’s changed and it keeps changing and anyone that’s looking to make a career in this field would be doing themselves a service by trying to experience the different disciplines that exist across the profession.

Second, specialising in particular fields will also hold them in good stead. Being able to immerse themselves in areas where they have a genuine interest, and gaining a strong understanding of what makes those sectors tick, will give them an edge in the market based on their specific area of expertise and capability.