Throughout 2015, PRINZ will be interviewing senior PR practitioners about their careers, discovering what they believe is the key to being successful in PR, what tips they were given and have used in their career, and what they expect of a junior PR practitioner in 2015.
Tracey Bridges, New Zealand Managing Partner, SenateSHJ
Tracey Bridges is SenateSHJ New Zealand Managing Partner. She was one of four partners who founded the firm in 2003, and has helped it grow into one of Australasia’s largest independent public relations agencies. She is a published author and a Fellow of PRINZ.
How long have you worked in PR/Communications industry?
I’ve worked in communications for nearly 25 years, in one way or another. My first job out of university was as a press secretary at Parliament – which was a great place to learn the foundations for media management, issues management, government relations and regulatory affairs. Then a short stint at TV3 taught me what I’m not good at (short-term, day-to-day thinking), before I found my home at a communications consultancy.
What attracted you to the industry?
The quality of the people – and the quality of the parties (this was the mid-90s, after all). I knew someone who worked at Logos Public Relations, and he struck me as a really smart, ethical guy who loved his work. And because I worked at TV3, I got invited to their parties, which were marvellous affairs. The range of people there – the seniority but also the diversity – really struck me, and when a job came up at Logos I threw everything I had at getting it.
Did you complete tertiary study? If so, what and when?
I did a BA at Massey University, in English and French languages and literature and then a post-graduate diploma in journalism at Canterbury. I still use the poetry I learnt at Massey and the shorthand I learnt at Canterbury.
What do you think is the most significant industry change you’ve experienced?
I really welcome the increase in structured practice for our profession, as well as more channels for learning through our careers. When I first came into communications, it wasn’t possible to study it at university in New Zealand, and there was no Internet. We just learnt it as we went, and if you were lucky – like I was – you found good mentors to help you. Practitioners now have more sources of learning, from the wide range of blogs and discussion forums on the Internet, to the APR programme at PRINZ, to any number of university courses. There’s still nothing like learning from experience and having great mentors, but to be able to add other sources and structure to that learning is a wonderful thing.
What has been your favourite piece of work, to date?
There have been too many to count, and some of my favourite ones at SenateSHJ are ones I can’t really talk about, because our help was behind the scenes and in private. The one project I am very proud of, which it’s okay to talk about, is the campaign for action on family violence. We worked closely with fantastic clients, we were involved over a couple of years, and I really do believe our work helped that project succeed, contributing to better lives for some New Zealanders.
What is the most valuable piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
Feel the heat and walk towards it – don’t try to avoid conflict. I know a lot of communications practitioners come into this business because they’re “people people”, and for some, this comes with a tendency to regard conflict as bad. In fact, conflict can be good – even necessary. Sometimes, as practitioners, we need to put our clients or colleagues under pressure to understand what’s really going on, to understand people’s real fears and to reach the best solution to the problem.
Who do you look up to/who did you look up to as a young practitioner?
My two mentors when I was a young practitioner were Sally Logan-Milne and Jill Kinloch, my bosses at Logos Public Relations, who were each masters of the trade in their own ways. Jill still is – she’s our Group Finance Director at SenateSHJ and a great guide. These days, I’m lucky to be surrounded by colleagues who have attributes that I look up and aspire to, and from whom I can learn – when I remember to keep my eyes open. I’m working with a client at the moment who is dragging me a full mile out of my comfort zone, which is brilliant, and I’m learning fast as I go.
What do you expect of young practitioners that they may not be aware of?
I expect young practitioners to embrace learning, welcome criticism, keep their eyes open to what they don’t know and what they can do better. I expect high standards and a very ethical approach to our profession. And good humour. It’s really nice working with people who love what they do and have fun doing it.