At Commtract, our community of experts are the lifeblood of our business. One initiative we are taking on is featuring more of our experts to showcase their unique talent, ready to be engaged on our marketplace!
We interviewed communications strategist and journalist, Antoun Issa – keep on reading to find out all about him!
1. What interesting skills and experience do you bring to the table as a contractor?
The experience of diversity. When you work with different organisations in different countries, you quickly learn there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to resolving challenges. But, it certainly gives you a broader toolkit, as you can apply lessons learned observed elsewhere in your current context. For instance, there are definitely learning experiences for Australian organisations seeking to better engage their audiences from what U.S. organisations have done. And as someone who has worked across the world and seen how different approaches are applied, it helps bring a broader perspective.
2. I got into communications because….
It seemed a natural evolution from beginning my career as a journalist. When you’re in the weeds of content, working in newsrooms, building newsrooms, strategizing to get eyeballs on your content, all of a sudden you think … wait, I can do this for many organisations. Eventually, the strategizing component of communications becomes more alluring than the day-to-day practise of it, such as being a news reporter or editor.
3. What have been your favourite projects/engagements/roles/clients, including your current role at Atlantic57
It’s really rewarding engaging with client partners who are just so passionate about the future. They know we’re in a digital era, and they’re often the pioneers within their organisations to steer change and transform the organisation for the 21st century. And that change is never easy. In addition to the tactical and structural shifts that I often recommend, the big shift is cultural. Being part of that conversation, helping organisations transform to be digitally fluent in this era after years, and sometimes decades, of going about the job as usual, is quite fulfilling. It’s rewarding to see your work have a great impact.
4. What have been your favourite projects/engagements/roles/clients
A favourite project that comes to mind was with an animal welfare organisation that needed an event organised and run in the town of Albany, WA. The project provided me with the opportunity to travel to a town and state I had never been to, meet with locals (many still haunted by the town’s brutal whaling industry past), take part in a photo shoot with an ex-anti-whaling activist, an ex-whaling captain and a famed Australian author and run an event that achieved both national and international coverage. What a ride that was!
5. Any wise words to share with other professionals in contracting?
Be the visionary. Likeability and strategic thinking are the big differentiators. When you’re in a field where so many have the skills to “execute” the work — i.e. do the social campaigns, gather analytics, design, build presentations and decks etc. — it’s your vision, your strategic approach, that sets you apart from the pack. Organisations often get stuck on ideas and become stagnant, that’s why they seek external help. Lead with bold, thoughtful ideas, then execution.
6. Tell us about your experience leading a team of journalists in the Middle East during the Arab Spring to cover major stories. What was a major lesson you learnt that you carry to this day
Empathy is everything. Being an editor while your reporters are in warzones is more than just filing, editing, publishing. Many journalists suffered PTSD from what they were experiencing, and were sometimes direct victims. I learned pretty quickly that an editor’s job isn’t just about ensuring you have copy at the end of the day to go out, but also ensuring your journalists are mentally healthy and feel supported. It wasn’t a 9-5 job, but 2am calls with crying journalists stuck in a warzone who’ve just witnessed an atrocity. And you’re their first port of call – they turn to you for more than just professional leadership. You become a friend, a support.
While the everyday workplace isn’t as intense, empathy is crucial in any context. Consider the circumstances of the people you’re working with, and factor that into how you engage with them professionally.
7. You have been in the comms field for about a decade now – what are some of the major changes you have witnessed throughout the years, and how did you adapt to them (in particular the digital transformation you led at Middle East Institute)?
I got into journalism at the wrong time (haha). In the 1990s, a journalist was a high paid, coveted job. And the only way an organisation could really communicate to an audience was through the media. I entered journalism at the time of free information of the internet. We didn’t quite understand what precise impact the Internet Revolution would have on media and communications, and I think this decade we’ve seen the media industry adapt and set standards for the rest of the communications industry to follow.
The big shift, no doubt, has been in audience consumption and habit, and shifting to smartphones. The other side of that is the availability of audience data courtesy of social media giants and Google, and being able to target and reach your audiences in ways you could never do before.
That has given communicators today a raft of incredible tools and opportunities to engage with audiences directly — bypassing media, hence the continued decline in digital advertising. Journalism today isn’t just mainstream media — corporations, foundations, non-profits, governments are building newsrooms because they have the ability to speak to their audiences directly. Yesterday, a journalist meant working for a newspaper or broadcast network. Today, it could be working in a newsroom of a big bank or non-profit. And us ex-journalists-now-consultants are here to help organisations make that transformation..
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