Human on the Inside with Media-Wize’s Kathryn Van Kuyk

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We’re big believers in the power of human skills. But don’t just take our word for it – the evidence for excellence powered by human (‘soft’) skills is everywhere! In this engaging, ever-enlightening series, we speak with industry leaders, innovators and game-changers to learn a little about their personal career journeys, and how human-led strategies, philosophies and cultures are proving a force for good in their working worlds …

Welcome Kathryn, and thanks for stepping into the #SuccessIsHuman Spotlight!  You’re the Co-CEO/Founder and PR Director at Media-Wize. In 1 sentence (ok, we’ll give you 3), what does this role entail?

Thank you for inviting me to participate in this terrific series! My role encompasses driving the vision and mission of the agency and making sure that we are delivering outstanding results for our clients and challenging the norm. I mentor the team, work closely with my co-founder on the business and operations and am in contact regularly with all our clients on campaign delivery. I also share learnings with the wider industry through writing agnostic best practice thought leadership.

Your impressive career has involved an extensive number of media relations and PR roles, in-house and agency side, focused on managing the reputation and ‘messaging’ of brands in the market. How does this work speak to your personal purpose and what drives you as an individual?

Thank you, I am passionate about working not just with marketing and communications teams, but closely with the c-suite and spokespeople. We launched Media-Wize to fill a gap in training for spokespeople, to really ensure they understand how to work with the media and communicate stories that will make an impact and resonate. Spokespeople are crucial to a PR program’s success. A PR may secure an opportunity, but spokespeople need to be able to articulate a compelling message. We encourage our spokespeople to communicate their message starting with the why, not the how or what they do. When people talk about why they do it, their enthusiasm shows and makes the message more relatable.

Tell us a little about your personal education pathway/s – what led you to where you are now? How closely do your formal qualifications match your current career?

When I was 14 years old, I decided I wanted to work in media and 31 years later, I remain just as committed. I completed a BA in Journalism and hit the newsroom when I was 20 years old, that was pre-internet! After 18 months, I realised that PR was my calling and made the transition as many journalists do and have relished every opportunity since then to hone my craft and learn.

If you could share one piece of career advice to your 21 year old self it would be …

Dream big, believe in yourself, don’t let anyone or anything hold you back from pursuing your dreams. Like many young girls starting out I didn’t value myself enough. I let fear hold me back from doing what I wanted to most at the age, make the move to NYC. When you’re young, you’re most free, take the leap into the unknown and go for it!

Maximising the potential of individuals, communities and businesses through the power of human skills is the reason Maxme exists. Can you tell us a little about the role and / or value of human skills in your workplace right now?

Human skills are vital to my role. We need to win the trust of our clients and be able to navigate and steer PR programs for success. We also need to build rapport and connections with journalists. When media training clients, our role is to ask the tough questions in a safe environment so that we can coach through on real-world scenarios. We need to do this blending ethics and integrity as well as demonstrating empathy and wisdom

Self Awareness sets the critical foundation for all Maxme learning experiences. With that said … what’s your strongest trait / personal super power?

I think my personal super power is having a highly attuned sense of what makes a news story and where it can be best told. To spot opportunities that clients may miss or not realise could be of wider interest. To help them communicate their message well. I am also very good at project management and knowing all the steps to take for the most efficient route to an outcome.

And on the flip side, what’s one human / ‘soft’ skill you’ve had to really work on improving over the course of your career?

There is the saying that if you want something done, give it to a busy person. I’ve had to learn that not everything is urgent and requires action right away and to pace delivery. And also importantly to speak up, to share a wider perspective and sometimes offer a proactive alternative approach, based on practical in the trenches PR experience.

If you could share one piece of career advice with recent Uni graduates or candidates keen to work at a company like Media-Wize, what would it be?

Read the newspapers! We are often amazed how young PR graduates have overlooked the importance of picking up a copy of an actual newspaper. It’s important to understand all the sections and know there are different reporters for different topics, for instance that jobs and employment news is covered by career writers. When you start out in PR, you need to understand how the media industry works, what mastheads and titles exist in each State/Territory and also Australia-wide. Graduates also need to learn who the key journalists are. These essential insights can’t be learned on social media, only through delving into traditional media.

You’ve been granted approval to add one University graduate to your team, but have 100 applicants, all with outstanding academic results. How do you find your perfect candidate – what are you looking for?

Passion and enthusiasm above all else, a can-do attitude and willingness to learn. Confidence and warm interpersonal skills. Technical skills can be taught, but soft skills are far more vital.

In the words of John Dewey, “education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” What’s next on your #learning agenda?

The wonderful thing about working in PR is that the job requires constant learning. Everytime we onboard a new client, we need to learn about their business. Specialising in technology clients, the pace of development and change is constant, so we’re always at the cutting edge of what’s new, what’s emerging and enriching our knowledge.

My co-founder is a highly regarded technology journalist and former IT leader – his deep technical knowledge and ability to explain highly complex processes in simple ways, has been absolutely invaluable to my learning and development. Reading the content he can produce and having him brief me has accelerated my learning to lightspeed in many areas.

In the last three years I made the leap to starting my own agency with my cofounder so I am also constantly learning all about being an entrepreneur and running a business, whilst also being a single mother and raising two children. From new emerging mediums to accounting, to software tools, to people development – learning continuously throughout the journey of life and business.