Telum Talks To...Aideen McDonald, Business Director at DEC PR

Telum Talks To...Aideen McDonald, Business Director at DEC PR

Telum caught up with Aideen McDonald, Business Director at DEC PR, about what businesses need to know about communicating during the pandemic, how DEC PR builds and maintains culture for employees, what job hunting looks like for many during and post COVID-19, and her fondness for actor Jason Bateman.

You were job hunting after the GFC. What is your advice to people looking for work post COVID-19?
I think if you are passionate about the skill-set of PR and communications, then be open to working in any sector. I've found sometimes people can be a bit particular about the sectors that they want to work in, and that's fair enough, but I think if you are looking for a new job post COVID-19, it's about being open. I hadn't worked in financial services before the GFC hit and I ended up working at BlueChip Communication afterwards, which is a financial services agency.

Secondly, I think the way we work is going to change post COVID-19. Instead of working on retainers, we might have more project-based work. This could lead to a shift in the workforce with more contractors and freelancers. So, people need to be open to new ways of working.

With no concrete end-date for the lock downs or lifting of restrictions, how do you plan a communications strategy?
I think PR is in one of the best positions, because as a profession we are used to having to pivot, be flexible, change plans last minute due to whatever's happening on the news agenda, and making sure we’re being as relevant as possible with our brands and with our clients. So as soon as anything happens, we review current plans and look how we might have to pivot and ask, “Is it still relevant, is it sensitive to the landscape, is anyone going to even cover the story?”

Media coverage has shifted over the last few weeks from providing vital information from the government and regulators to other types of content. The media are now looking for other stories, human interest stories related to COVID. We are working with Mable, which is an online platform that connects support workers with people with a disability or older Australians, and so we have been finding beautiful stories of people providing virtual support where they can’t find the physical support.

DEC PR is looking after communications for Dettol locally. Where do you start with a communications strategy when there is so much demand for a product?
When we have a brand like Dettol, which has seen unprecedented demand for their product that couldn’t have been predicted, it comes with a lot of responsibility. You need to be careful with your communications so that you're not just proactively marketing, otherwise consumers are going to get frustrated when they can’t find the product. It’s about keeping people updated about stock and supply, and even in times where you don’t always know what’s going to happen next, it’s trying to be open with communication and provide answers when you can.

The second part is that Dettol is now at the centre of hand hygiene. COVID-19 has really made people focus on the role that something as simple as washing your hands can play in helping protect yourself from illnesses, and the role we all play in protecting one another. 

When hand sanitiser was selling out and the World Health Organisation was trying to educate people to use soap and water first and foremost, and hand sanitisers when you’re on the go, we created educational content to support this, not only about our own product, but about the entire category. All brands have a responsibility to educate on their category rather than just push product, and Dettol is doing just that.

What will the new normal look like for businesses post COVID-19?
What I find fascinating is the behaviour trends and psychology of how consumers are responding to everything. I'm really interested to see what behaviours continue, what will have changed in our psyche and the way of working and consuming forever, and what will we completely forget and revert back to the way we were previously?

I’m also interested in what is the new path to purchase. What are consumers expecting from brands now? Because it has shifted. We saw it shift with the bushfires earlier this year. There was all the cynicism around brands doing any corporate social responsibility or talking about the good they’re doing in the community. Then, we saw a huge shift where journalists, commentators, and consumers started to ask brands to actually promote what they’re doing, because it helps them understand what brands they want to engage with, what brands they want to purchase from. But, it also puts pressure on other brands to do the same.

DEC PRWhat is DEC PR doing in terms of team building during the lock down?
We have our regular all staff huddles in the morning over video conference to help people, especially those living on their own, have that human connection first thing. We love fancy dress at DEC PR, so on a Wednesday we have a fancy-dress theme. And we have a thing which we call Snacks and Yacks. We have had that on Thursday afternoons lately. It’s where people have a glass of wine or a margarita and chat about, “Well how’s your week been? What have the peaks been personally and professionally. Can you share any tips around what people have found useful?”

Professional development can be challenging during lock down. How is DEC PR ensuring people continue to grow and develop professionally?
We have a mentor programme that involves working with a senior leadership team member who you don’t work on clients with. It’s someone that can take that step back and provide you with the bigger picture and offer support around what your goals are. The mentor catch-ups were monthly but have now moved to fortnightly. It’s an opportunity to chat through some of those goals and how you are going to achieve them. But during these times, it’s also looking more at how you are going mentally and emotionally. Are there new challenges you’re coming across that you need support with?

Our internal training programme is called Bright Sparks, and we have been running it virtually during lock down. It’s where we get people externally to present to us. It can be anything from your own financial services or your own financial planning, or it could be about influencer programmes or issues management, so we're still doing that as well.

What are you watching on Netflix and what are you reading at the moment?
We have started the second season of Ozark. I love Jason Bateman. He’s such a legend! I’m also listening to Awards Chatter. It’s a Hollywood podcast with interviews from actors and people in the industry. It featured a great interview with Matthew McConaughey and Jason Bateman as well, he’s such a nice guy. Series three of Killing Eve has just come out. We love that! And then, have you watched Fleabag? It’s my second time watching it. She’s awesome.

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