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Lights on, with Ella McPherson

You may already know Ella McPherson from this month’s crisis communication event. We gained a lot from hearing what Ella had to say, and thought we would share some of this wisdom with our members and subscribers. In addition to being a crisis comms guru, Ella is currently Executive Director, Change Strategy at the Victorian Department of Education and Training.

Rebecca Wilson 2Can you describe a major ‘lights on’ moment in your career when you learnt a powerful lesson that significantly changed your approach?

The Black Saturday Bushfires changed my view of the role of communications forever.

What was the background to the ‘lights on’ moment?

The 2009 fires had devastated Victoria and in the days immediately following, the department I worked for was responsible for community engagement and managing the huge influx of volunteers and material donations.

What was the major lesson you learned?

Communications really needs to be involved in strategy and policy decisions. Get everyone to consider the potential risks around putting out a 1300 number and calling for volunteers through the media – we got well over 20,000 and had to scramble to manage expectations.

How have you applied that lesson in your career and what has the impact been?

I prefer to choose roles with a supportive senior management who understand the value comms can bring to the table – and how much more so if we’re not the last to know or they tell us only when they want to out a brochure or media release.

How do you believe other communicators could benefit from your experience and the lesson you’ve learned?

Make the effort to get involved early . Yes, you will go to dull meetings that may have nothing for you in there immediately, but you build the relationships, get deeper content knowledge… and just occasionally you’ll be able to head something disastrous off, or really add value to the shape of the actual decision, not just what’s said about it.

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