Sarah-Joy Pierce Owner Joyful Communications started her own PR and Strategic Communications business in 2015 in response to clients who were contacting her repeatedly to complete freelance assignments. Since then, she has Co-Founded another business Strategic Mining Communications, primarily to service the mining sector. With two thriving businesses under her belt, and working across a range of industries, she also lectures part-time in PR at Central Queensland University, bringing an industry perspective to the degree and the Public Relations stream in particular.
In 2016 Sarah-Joy was selected as a Global Voices Scholarship Recipient and Delegate to the World Bank and IMF Annual Meetings. She was awarded the Dean’s Award for Excellence in 2017 by QUT Business School.
Tell us what led you to start Joyful Communications and why you are passionate about Public Relations and Communications?
I started Joyful Communications because I saw a gap in the market for public relations practitioners in regional Queensland. You might not think that businesses in regional areas would use PR but ever since I started, I’ve been busy!
I believe that every business can use public relations to help build their brand. At its core, public relations is about building relationships between an organisation and the groups of people on whom its success depends…and what business doesn’t need that? I also love the different things that we can do to help a business out – no two days (and no two clients) are ever the same!
How did you come to be part of the USA Global Voices Conference in 2016 and tell us about the Policy Paper you wrote?
While I was studying my Masters, I came across the Global Voices program. Global Voices is a non-profit organisation that works to engage young people with foreign policy and international relations by offering opportunities to attend high-level international meetings as young Australian representatives. It’s an amazing program, and I wanted to be a part of it so badly that I think I applied for three different rounds before I got accepted! When I finally got into the program, I was selected to attend the 2016 World Bank and IMF Annual Meetings in Washington DC. The meetings were a fantastic travel opportunity and a huge learning curve – often being the youngest person with a seat at the table (both figuratively and literally!) was incredible.
As part of the program, we had to write a policy paper, and mine was around the ‘leaking pipeline’ of women in the Australian workforce and how this affects our economic productivity. We really need to change the way we think about women in the Australian workforce – women now outnumber men at university but this isn’t reflected in the workforce, and particularly not in the higher echelons of management. The leak in this pipeline of educated women costs Australia over $500 million in interest on unpaid HECS loans each year, not to mention the talented labour force that’s not being utilised. We’ve done a great job of encouraging women into university, but now the focus needs to shift on ways for them to remain productive in the workforce longer-term.
You work predominantly with mining clients and are also Co-Founder of Strategic Mining Communications, but tell us about the full breadth of clients you’ve worked with and some of your challenging assignments.
As a proud Central Queenslander, I count myself extremely privileged to have so many mining clients. There’s a special kind of people who work in mining – they tell it like it is, and while their language might be a little coarse at times they usually have a heart of gold. I started working with a few mining clients as part of Joyful Communications, and then branched out to start Strategic Mining Communications with the wonderful Jodie Currie, to establish ourselves as leaders in that market.
I work with plenty of other clients across the full spectrum of business…to name a few, there’s accountants, funeral homes, a facilities management contractor, engineers, builders, allied health professionals and local government. I’ve found that service-based businesses are the clients I enjoy working with the most, and that was a real lightbulb moment for my business. Public relations and communications comes easily for me, and specialising in service-based businesses allows me stay on top of relevant trends that could make my clients’ lives easier.
In terms of challenging assignments, a few spring to mind. I do plenty of tender writing and that’s always deadline-driven, particularly with tenders that could mean millions of dollars to a client’s business. At the start of last year, the Strategic Mining Communications team were tasked with pulling together a 5-city roadshow with just under a month’s notice. We travelled to 5 regional Queensland towns in 3 days (which is harder than it sounds with 3-5 hours’ travel between each!) and had over 1300 people through the roadshows. That was challenging but it was a great feeling when we pulled it off!
You lecture at CQUniversity in Public Relations. What are the current and future trends in Public Relations?
Lecturing is new to me but I’m enjoying the chance to introduce students to the world of public relations and all its exciting possibilities.
I think the biggest thing that new (and existing) PR practitioners have to face is simply the increasing pace of the world we live in. With the 24/7 nature of the Internet and social media, you are always ‘on’, and you should always be looking for ways that your clients can use current events to better connect with their stakeholders.
When things go wrong, as an organisation you’ve got about 20 minutes to respond in a crisis. That’s not a lot of time, and if you aren’t prepared to face a PR crisis it could well mean the end of your business. It’s the little things like making sure you’ve got control over all your social media channels and that you have a basic crisis plan in place to keep your brand image consistent and clean – I see so many businesses that just believe nothing will ever go wrong, and when it does, it deeply impacts their business. Crisis planning is something that I would encourage all organisations to get on top of!
What has been your greatest challenge?
My greatest challenge is ‘the juggle’ – and I don’t even have children yet! Keeping all of the different aspects of life in balance is really tough, and I’m always working on how well I manage things.
When you run a business, it’s really easy to just keep ploughing through things and not take time for yourself. I’m slowly working out that I’m actually a better person to work with when I’ve made the time to exercise, to prepare and eat healthy food and to spend time with my family.
What are you most proud of?
I’m really proud of the business that I’ve built. Although I don’t always take advantage of the flexibility, I love knowing that if my husband works a weekend shift and is home during the week, I can take the day or the morning off to hang out with him.
What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?
Never stop challenging yourself – don’t get comfortable. One of my clients taught me that the way to build a business is sometimes to just say yes, and then work out how to get it done! If you throw yourself in the deep end, nine times out of ten you’ll be able to swim.
But on the one out of ten that you can’t swim your way out of – it’s totally okay to ask for help!
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