Natasha Exelby, Founder of XLB Media, can both literally and figuratively draw from her personal experience in the firing line when it comes to her service offering. Her background and training as a seasoned foreign correspondent in some of the most war torn parts of the globe, combined with personally being in the paparazzi’s spotlight, have provided a unique set of life experiences that make it easy for her to empathise with the plight of her clients.
Her knowledge and skillset as a senior news presenter and reporter, who has borne frontline witness to major historical events of our time has informed her capability to prepare and guide individuals and corporates to respond effectively to difficult media situations. Natasha’s resume includes The Project, Channel 10 News, Channel 7, ABC News 24, CNN, TRTWorld and infotainment like Mamamia.
While she still dabbles in journalism with guest hosting appearances on TV and radio, it’s in the Corporate sphere that Natasha has been kicking goals recently. She’s rapidly developed a reputation among the corporate and sporting elite for her calm and polished delivery of XLB Media’s PR suite of media training, positive publicity and crisis management. She’s also an accomplished and entertaining Keynote speaker and MC.
Across these diverse roles, Natasha’s humanity, humility and resilience as well as her exuberance, authenticity and trademark humour are compelling. She’s one of those approachable and captivating storytellers who draws others to her and radiates life, because she’s seen a lot of it.
As a journalist you’ve interviewed people who have lost their families in the Syrian refugee crises, you’ve been at ground zero for terrorist attacks in Europe and personally, your house has been sprayed with bullets and your phone tapped. How did you develop your resilience to cope with these and other situations, and how do you maintain it?
As a journalist, my job largely revolved around meeting people on the worst day of their life. They may have lost loved ones in a terror attack, lost their house in a hurricane or lost their young child due to some freak accident. So for my entire adult life I’ve received a daily dose of perspective.
Moving back to Australia and setting up your own media consultancy is a big change. Was it a hard to decision to make?
Yes. But I’ve never been happier. I knew I would miss the adrenalin of live TV and breaking news. But I get a similar rush when I’m leading a client through a crisis and I pull an all-nighter to achieve a great outcome. I don’t know if that makes me one sick puppy, but I’m hoping my desire to create calm and protect a client’s public profile levels out my ‘crazy’ rating.
The best thing about being a journalist is meeting new people daily, and learning their story. I knew I would miss that. Luckily I still get to do that regularly in my new role as a consultant. I’ve also been doing quite a bit of keynote speaker and MC gigs lately and I find them to be a lot of fun. I’m a big fan of diversifying and stretching my wings as far as they’ll take me.
What was the catalyst to start XLB Media?
There was no lightbulb moment but an experience I had a few years ago certainly played a role. I was the host of a new breakfast show on Channel Ten and it was a total disaster. The show was a mess, the ratings were dismal, something had to give, and that thing was me. I was sacked with about 40 minutes to process it before it was made public. I had paparazzi outside my house, gossip columnists ringing my parents’ home phone, Twitter going off and a lot of stories being written about me in the papers that just weren’t true.
Then in April this year, my experience with being on both sides of a story unexpectedly expanded. I found myself at the centre of an international media storm. I was news presenting on ABC 24 and was caught daydreaming… at the news desk… on camera – not an amazing look I will grant you! ABC was understandably perturbed. But it was when they made the call to take me off air that the story blew up and the clip went viral.
I’m not sure if being sacked twice is a banner of shame or a badge of pride, but I’m certain it’s made me an outstanding media consultant. It’s easy to have a PR guru or former journalist tell you how to write a press release or speak well on camera, but counsel from someone who’s been through the mud themselves is pretty damn handy.
As Founder of XLB Media, you are training corporates on how to attract positive publicity, manage issues in the media and develop their camera confidence. What is one tip you would like to share under each of these areas?
The best piece of media advice for business is to get media training and prepare for a crisis you hope will never happen.
The first thing I work on with any client is how to say more in less time. It’s actually easier to deliver a ten minute speech than a two minute one. If you’ve given yourself a time limit, it means you have to make every word count. So, work out what your message is and then work out how to deliver it in less words. And do this again and again. In terms of camera confidence, it’s largely down to practice, and that’s what I do in my media training sessions.
Managing issues in the media is the trickiest one, and it varies case by case. But my overall message is to get in front of it. Talk to the media before they talk to you. Don’t sit on your hands and wait for the bomb to explode, go ahead and try to dismantle it. I’m lucky that I’ve built up a huge contact base of journalists. So, if I have a client who is facing a crisis, I know how individual journalists are going to react and the ones we can confide in to tell the story right.
What’s been your greatest challenge?
It was difficult leaving my last job as a foreign correspondent and anchor based in Turkey. It’s the best job I’ve ever had and I’m not sure I will ever do anything to match it. But for me it wasn’t sustainable. I was averaging three countries a week, 18 hour days and witnessing atrocities on a horrific scale.
What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?
There’s enough sun for everyone. It’s okay to be competitive, but be competitive with a conscience. Don’t try to muscle people out, focus on creating a space where there’s room for everyone. The best TV presenters I’ve ever worked with are the ones who go to great lengths to make their co-hosts look good. The most impressive business people I’ve met are people who’ve agreed to take my call or meet for coffee when they have nothing to gain.