A Day With… Sue Woodward

We’re going behind the scenes with communications professionals across the APAC region, learning more about their diverse roles, what they love most about their jobs, and how they got there in the first place. In the ninth part of the series, we sat down with Sue Woodward, Director of Brand, Marketing and Communications at MinterEllison.
Briefly describe a ‘day in the life’ of you as a communications professional.

I am the Brand, Marketing and Communications Director at MinterEllison, Australia’s largest corporate, commercial legal firm.  I have a team in all Australian states who effectively work as an internal agency to the firm, mainly the Clients and Markets Growth team. Every day is different and busy. It involves collaboration with various stakeholders, from the CEO and her office, team meetings, preparing or managing a crisis, overseeing our digital strategy, and dealing with the press to an individual partner who wants to grow their profile.

I see communications as a component of the Market discipline, so that is how I approach my remit. There is a strong connection between marketing, brand and communications. Communication is an active ingredient to ensuring your brand and marketing initiatives are relevant, current and of interest to your target audience – whether that is an internal or external audience.

My day will start early by checking the news feed notifications – all mentions of MinterEllison and our competitors, plus I skim the daily breaking business news. And I monitor this throughout the day.  Keeping informed and updated on what is breaking in the industry and in business news assists me contribute to and make sound business decisions and allows me to anticipate and plan ahead.

I spend time in meetings collaborating with my team which I can gauge their workloads and provide input to some of their strategies and programs. I also collaborate with peers in the Clients and Markets Growth team to share knowledge and insights so they can make informed decisions and the programs they are working on are effective.

Of late, I am teaming with my Digital team to create a stronger web presence for our ESG team.  We are developing out more pages, looking at the search term volumes to assist with content, and relevant page dependencies so that users learn more about the depth of ESG services, insights, and expertise of the team.

Thankfully, there is not a crisis every day.  My experience is that there needs to be effective collaboration with internal stakeholders – from the Board, CEO, Head of Risk.  You must act fast, based upon the facts at the moment.

In a crisis, communications must be developed quickly, accurately, and authentically, and they need to be geared to stakeholders. Everyone in the crisis management team must input. You must listen and be very adaptable.

I take a keen interest in our martech stack and with a small team am embarking on an assessment and upgrade of our stack. Our objective is to ensure communications reach the target audience quickly, there is less effort required to produce and deliver communications, and there is real time, accurate reporting.

I end my day with exercise – a 60-minute walk, a pilates class, a game of tennis or all three in one evening. I am active person with lots of energy to burn. My exercise regime allows me to clear my head and make room for creative thinking or new ideas.

What’s the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is undoubtedly the opportunity to collaborate with people who possess varying levels of experience and specialisations. Each team member brings unique skills and perspectives, and despite the differences, we all share a common goal – delivering excellence and outstanding results.

For instance, I recently led a continuing legal education program for our clients, and I assembled a team of six talented individuals, each with their area of expertise – event management, digital communications, learning and development, research, and systems. Together, we set out to create an entirely new and engaging user learning experience, featuring prominent external speakers. During the planning phase, we faced the decision of outsourcing to a virtual conference technology provider – a first for us, which brought a degree of risk.

However, our shared values of collaboration, curiosity, and commitment to excellence paid off splendidly. To our delight, we attracted over 1,000 attendees to each of the eight virtual sessions, with participants consistently rating the sessions 4.5 out of 5. The project’s resounding success not only strengthened our bond as a team but also had a positive impact on our firm and clients.

Working with such a diverse team allowed us to tap into a wealth of knowledge and expertise, providing unique learning opportunities for everyone involved. The collective synergy of our team made the process highly enjoyable and rewarding, and it reaffirmed the importance of collaboration in achieving remarkable outcomes.

How did you enter the communications industry? (i.e., university study, internships, worked your way into communications, another route?)

My journey into the communications industry was a result of hard work, a desire to continuously challenge myself, and the invaluable support of great mentors. I initially started my career in administration, but it was during my time at an international professional services firm that my path in communications began to take shape.

Fortunately, I had the privilege of working under an exceptional boss who recognised my potential and strong work ethic. He saw something in me that I hadn’t fully realised myself. With unwavering encouragement, he urged me to pursue postgraduate qualifications in marketing, even pushing me to take the step. Following his advice, I enrolled in a Master of Marketing program.

Those studies proved to be a turning point in my career. The knowledge and skills I gained propelled me to explore the world of communications more deeply. While communications had always been part of my responsibilities, I discovered a genuine passion for the field and a natural inclination towards strategic communication initiatives.

As my career progressed, my experience and expertise in communications grew. I began attracting employers and clients seeking my advice and hands-on approach to setting up communication functions and teams, managing crisis communication, and establishing and overseeing digital and social communications strategies.

Throughout this journey, I never forgot the impact of my mentor’s guidance. His belief in my abilities was a gift that transformed my trajectory and helped me recognize the potential I held within. His encouragement to venture into the world of marketing and communications unlocked a whole new realm of opportunities and fulfillment.

What’s the best piece of communications advice you’ve been given?

The best piece of communication advice I’ve received is to always start by understanding the audience.

Identifying the target audience and comprehending their needs, motivations, and preferences is the foundation of any successful communication strategy. For instance, when approaching a new communication project, the first step is to delve into who the audience is. This could be internal stakeholders, clients, prospects or the general public. By understanding their preferences and how they consume information through emails, social media, or other channels, we can tailor the content to match their interests and needs.

Once you clearly understand the audience profile, content can be created that resonates with them and delivers the information effectively. Short sentences and clear language are essential, regardless of the audience. Communicating at a grade 8 reading level ensures that our message is accessible and easily understood by a broader audience.

Additionally, feedback plays a crucial role in refining communications strategies. By monitoring communications performance and actively seeking feedback, you can continuously improve and deliver even more impactful messages.

Applying this advice has resulted in successful communications campaigns that have effectively reached and engaged with audiences. Understanding the audience and crafting tailored content is the cornerstone of meaningful and impactful communications.

What’s your superpower as a communication professional?

Always write for the audience receiving the message rather than the audience pushing out the message. Effective communication begins with understanding the needs, interests, and preferences of the people receiving the information.

For example, when working on a recent client communication campaign, I took the time to research the target audience. I sought to put myself in their shoes, become familiar with their perspectives, challenges, and goals, and adopt their persona to craft messages that resonated with them.

By speaking directly to their needs and aspirations, the campaign significantly increased engagement and a deeper connection with our audience. The approach reinforced the importance of audience-centric communication in achieving meaningful results and has always enabled me to create impactful communications that connect with the intended audience and drive positive outcomes.