Student Comms Chat’s Ross Monoghan sat down with Janelle Ryan of The Little PRC and Left of the Clique to talk about working and networking in regional PR, her experience as a successful woman in the comms industry, and why she chose to pursue a law degree.
Working in Regional PR
Strategic communications consultant, human rights advocate, people connector, Juris Doctor candidate, and, on top of all of that, mother, Janelle Ryan sure likes to keep busy. She says that living in Ballarat has helped her maintain her busy schedule and given her the opportunity to grow her business faster.
While some might find regional areas intimidating, Janelle embarrassed the close-knit community and found that working with the media was a little easier as it allowed for closer long-term relationships. Working with media in the city can be difficult given the fast-paced, dynamic landscape that PR practitioners are competing with. For Janelle, press releases have become a thing of the past and she’s had more success simply having conversations with regional journalists to break through the noise.
However, that doesn’t mean working in regional communications is without its challenges. Ballarat is said to be more conventional and traditional than the city and starting out, Janelle found it difficult to be taken seriously as a woman in PR.
Founding Left of the Clique
Working in a regional area can feel a bit isolating and in tight-knit regional communities, it can be difficult for practitioners to make connections.
“there was a business card hand over, there was a firm handshake and there was a lot of cliques. How do I address it?”Janelle on the PR environment in Ballarat
Janelle noticed this and took steps to connect with more practitioners entering the regional industry. After a few too many coffee meetings she found it was taking a lot of time away from her business and decided to start Left of the Clique. This group provides opportunities for its Ballarat based members (over 550 strong!) to meet up, share ideas and make connections. Janelle pulls together panels of 4 guests who are doing things differently and focuses topics on things that may seem controversial or taboo in the industry. Its success can be attributed to the fact that there was a clear gap in the market for niche, out of the box thinkers like Janelle.
Perception of PR
Janelle notes that public perception of PR has been tainted through the years. As the industry constantly changes, the lines between marketing and PR have blurred. The key problem is that all too often practitioners are brought in to mop up big messes for companies. The relationship building and two-way communication aspects of the industry have been lost a bit. Janelle suggests that practitioners need to take back ownership of the title ‘PR practitioner’.
Women in PR
Janelle reflected on her experience as a woman working in PR and the culture that exists within the industry that causes inequalities in the workplace.
The key issue here is that ‘drinks with the boys’ have become a prerequisite for ‘earning’ promotions in this industry. Furthering your career feels like is less based on merit, and more so whether or not your boss thinks you’re a good bloke. People tend to take women less seriously in the workplace for a myriad of reasons, a major one being their decision to start a family.
However, there are ways that we can combat these inequalities; Janelle suggests that while we shouldn’t have to rely on men, we can select key leaders who can leverage their influence and privilege to lift other talented women up.
She also noted that COVID-19 will continue to change the working world as we know it, and hopefully, what it means to be a productive employee and leader in the workplace will also change.
After a traumatic experience in a previous workplace that, unfortunately, a lot of women can relate to, Janelle reassessed her career aspirations. Having always had an interest in human rights and social justice, Janelle pursued law studies. When entering the PR industry she was interested in public policy and how PR practitioners could influence this level of decision making. A passionate women’s rights activist. Inspired by others in the field, Janelle saw how well law and communications complement one another which drove her to pursue a Juris Doctor degree at Deakin University. Janelle refused to let negative experiences of the past define her future and is working towards real change in the communications industry.