#PRIAConf15 Speaker Teaser: Alison Hassel PR Manager, Zoos SA

Thu, Oct 08 2015


18 days and counting until our national conference 'Huge Transformations' from 25-27 October, in Hobart, Tasmania.

The National Conference is fast approaching so we decided to catch up with Alison Hassel, Public Relations Manager, Zoos South Australia, and get a taster of what she will be discussing in Hobart.

How does this year’s theme ‘huge transformations’ relate to you in your work?

Zoos are in a constant state of evolution and a perfect example of a real-life huge transformation. The first recorded zoo dates back to 1,500BC. The age of exploration in the 18th and 19th centuries saw explorers collect exotic specimens from across the globe to exhibit at home. Some of these collections would later become what we know of as zoos, reaching the height of popularity in Victorian times. The focus of the contemporary zoo has greatly changed since Victorian times, moving away from merely displaying animals for public entertainment to environmental conservation and education. 

Where do you think the biggest shift will come from in the industry in 2015?

Digital and social media engagement is likely to increase exponentially over the coming year and in to the future. I think we have only just touched the tip of the iceberg here and as professional communicators we need to expand our knowledge in this ever evolving area of communication and put more emphasis on developing strategies to engage with key stakeholder across this important medium. It is the way of the future and how youth, in particular, is learning to communicate. 

Art v science: how are you using data to inform your decision-making these days?

Yes, and who has not! Last year a situation arose that I was not fully prepared for as a certain business decision the zoo had made garnered a much larger reaction from the public than anyone initially anticipated. The event identified areas for improvement and the organisation took on many key learnings as a result. A Crisis and Issues Communication Strategy was developed to help mitigate against any potential issues from arising and/or guide communications should we face a similar event in the future.  

 

How do you think PR is handling the changing media landscape?

The PR industry is in a constant state of evolution and racing to keep up with new technology and the shift in the way people are communicating and engaging with their friends, family, clients and businesses. The PR industry is getting better at conforming to new digital platforms and leveraging them, however, there is still so much to learn and apply to our work. We are always learning and adapting to change and need to be flexible in our approach.   
 

Comms influence at the c-suite: this is a conversation that has been around for years, tell us who you think is doing it well?

I think there is definitely some room to improve, but I am very fortunate that the organisation I work for truly values impute from the PR Team. 

How important are social and digital in your day-to-day?

Absolutely vital. Working in such a visual environment, social media is one of the best ways for us to communicate and share the wonders of our zoos and unique animal residents. It is also a way to take control of the conversation and develop proactive communication strategies. Create the news, not react to it. Social media is the perfect platform to achieve such outcomes.

If your budget was cut in half, what is the one thing you could not give up?

What budget? ;) Media and social media monitoring is critical to my day to day work. Without this intelligence I would not be able to track and take advantage of trends, identify issues or keep up to date with evolving situations. 

Any uh-oh moments so far in your career? How did you fix the situation?

Yes, and who has not! Last year a situation arose that I was not fully prepared for as a certain business decision the zoo had made garnered a much larger reaction from the public than anyone initially anticipated. The event identified areas for improvement and the organisation took on many key learnings as a result. A Crisis and Issues Communication Strategy was developed to help mitigate against any potential issues from arising and/or guide communications should we face a similar event in the future.  

 

If there was a fight between a journalist, a marketer, a PR professional, an advertiser, a tech guru, a digital whizz and a creative, what tool would you bring to the fight, and who would win?

PR Theory… A sound knowledge in theory forms the bedrock of any decision I make. It sets a true PR practitioner apart from a journalist, marketer,  advertiser, tech guru or digital whizz. Each discipline requires a certain skill set. Although you can adapt skills from each discipline to public relations, an in depth understanding of PR theory is unique to someone with a background in pure public relations. 

What is your biggest fear working in the industry?

Dealing with certain crisis situations. For me, I sometimes have sleepless nights worrying about managing the communications for a fire at our open range zoo where we sustain loss of life – animal or human - and/or the death of zoo keeper or a member of the public from an incident with an animal.  

How do you manage the work life balance? What does your daily routine look like?

Working in public relations you have to be very disciplined to maintain a healthy work-life-balance. It is so easy to pick up your mobile phone over evening and respond to a particular email or obsessively monitor social media over the weekend. My day usually starts between 6-6:30am; waking up and checking my email before I even get out of bed. Then it’s a quick check of my calendar to see what meetings I have scheduled and what work I will be able to get done in between. The day to day grind can be extremely varied as unexpected activities crop up or issues arise that need immediate attention.
 
It is exciting, no day is the same and I would not change it for the world. I tend to get bored pretty easily, so the ever changing environment suits me perfectly. 

If you had to leave your house in a rush, what is the one thing you could not leave without or leave without doing?

I could not leave without my mobile phone and would struggle not ensure my garden had a healthy watering (especially on a hot summer day!). 

What is your guilty pleasure?
 
Binging on current affair/political shows on the ABC every Monday night – ABC News, 7:30, Four Corners, Media Watch and topped off with Q&A - much to the displeasure of my partner. I also love baking, which the rest of my team at the zoo absolutely loves me for!
 

Have you been to Tassie before? What are you looking forward to seeing?

This will be my first time to Tassie. I am thoroughly looking forward to discovering Hobart – its culture, history, sights and sounds. I am also planning to get off the beaten track and visit some of the Tasmanian Devil sanctuaries on the island, which relate to my work at the zoo.

Can you tease us with what you might be talking about at the conference in October?

In 2009, Adelaide Zoo became the first zoo in the southern hemisphere to house a breeding pair of Giant Pandas. In preparation, the zoo undertook a large-scale re-development to create a new home for the pandas and improve infrastructure in key areas. The arrival of the pandas was met with much fanfare and high visitation as Australian flocked to meet Wang Wang and Fu Ni.
 
Two short years later, Adelaide Zoo sustained serious reputational damage after revelling it was severely in debt as a result of its new star attraction. Amidst a public outcry, political sensitivities, poor staff morale and a media fire-storm, the zoo faced extinction. My presentation will look at how Adelaide Zoo transformed its image through a specialised communications plan to re-established itself as a treasured South Australian icon.

If you want to catch Alison in action, book your ticket today for the PRIA National Conference, 25-27 October in Hobart, Tasmania, before standard rates closes on 15 September 2015.

Author: Neil O'Sullivan, National Marketing and Communication Manager, PRIA.

Tweet us at @PRIANational #PRIAConf15.

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