PR Profile | Jane Gardner, Communications Director at the Climate Council
In this PR Profile interview, we delve into the life and career of Jane Gardner, Communications Director at the Climate Council. Discover how Jane navigates the challenges of shaping the narrative on climate change in Australia, battles disinformation, and finds fulfilment in her meaningful work.
Could you tell me about yourself and your role at the Climate Council?
I am the Communications Director. I head up a team of eight, responsible for a high volume of media - both proactive and reactive - and our digital content and social media channels. We work to publicise reports on the latest in climate science: renewables, weather patterns, fire and flood outlooks, climate policies, you name it. It's an insanely busy but very rewarding job.
What is your career background, and how did you get started?
It was certainly a humble beginning! Straight out of uni, after completing my Bachelor of Journalism, I started out writing advertorials for the Gold Coast Bulletin, profiling plastic surgeons and spruiking cosmetic enhancements. Please, ask me for a synonym for breast enhancements - I know them all! Then I scored a cadetship at the Northern Star newspaper in Lismore and worked my way up through the newsroom ranks to become a police and emergency services/breaking news reporter, which is a tough gig by anyone's measure. This is where I learned to be calm under pressure. I made the switch into not for profit communications in 2006 and have enjoyed a varied and interesting career since then, from reporting and gathering content from the world's biggest refugee camp to publicising cutting-edge medical research at the University of Melbourne to hosting Al Gore on his Inconvenient Sequel press conference in Australia to producing research uncovering the extent of street harassment in Australia and the mental health toll of climate change on Australians, there truly hasn't been a dull moment. This is the beauty of comms - you can experience so many different topics and interests in one career!
What are some of the highlights of your career so far?
I'm not sure if this is a highlight but the most memorable and meaningful career experiences I've had were during my six years in the humanitarian aid sector. Going on deployments to see the benefits of aid in developing countries is a really humbling and eye-opening experience and frankly, a bit of a wake-up call. I often think about the children I met in the Rohingya refugee camp and it saddens me to realise that they're still there. Remember that SBS show Go Back to Where You Came From? I wish every politician and every right-wing commentator could go and experience a war zone or refugee camp first-hand as I did - chances are, we'd live in a much more empathetic society if they did.
What advice would you give someone trying to develop their career in PR/Comms?
It's important to always use your initiative in creativity in comms roles - this is how you make progress up the chain - and it will be appreciated by any manager. Come ready to share your big and ambitious ideas. They may not always come off, but it's good to be ambitious. Bite off more than you can chew. Lean into the discomfort. Some of the proudest moments of my career were the result of being chucked straight in the deep end and learning a lot in the process.
What are you most proud of in the work that you do?
I feel very proud to be able to shape the narrative and correct the record on climate change in Australia alongside my wonderful, talented and passionate team. Sometimes you get to see the fruits of your labour in real-time, whether that's in the comments section of a social media post along the lines of 'I had no idea, I'm going to change x, y, z!' or perhaps a big funding or program win that lands years after a campaign you were involved in. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to work on the biggest issue of our time: climate change. It's true that the antidote to anxiety is action. We're up against it when you consider the deep pockets of the fossil fuel industry and the loud chorus of anti-climate commentators and the tsunami of disinformation bearing down on social media, but the Climate Council punches well above our weight. It's very cool seeing the impact our work has day to day and feeling like your work is meaningful.
What's the most valuable lesson/advice you've learnt about work in the PR/Comms industry?
I like the phrase 'It's PR, not ER - no one died'. This can be a stressful job when things go wrong or you're dealing with a reputation issue and the default can be to panic. Every complex PR situation can be overcome: take a deep breath, calm yourself and remember that with every challenge, we learn and grow wiser and more equipped to tackle the next one.
Could you tell me a bit about a recent campaign or project you have worked on that has been particularly interesting/successful?
I am immensely proud of my latest comms and research project, which I delivered with the Climate Council's Director of Research Simon Bradshaw which uncovered the true extent of mental health repercussions of the climate crisis. The Climate Trauma project is a foundational piece of research into everyday Australians' experiences of coping with more frequent and more intense climate disasters. While this research contributed to the knowledge and data on the impact of climate on people's mental health, it was first and foremost a storytelling piece and the thing that really shone through is how similar people's experiences are. From the country to the city, people are struggling with disasters. We really need to consider mental health support as part of the massive job of adapting to our new climate reality. I feel like this project was somewhat successful in raising awareness of that.
What is something about your work or yourself that you think people would be surprised to learn?
Perhaps it's that I often don't feel like I know what I'm doing or I don't belong at the 'big kids' table. Even when you get to the Director level, there are times when imposter syndrome kicks in and threatens to derail your confidence. It can be particularly prominent when you're dealing with formidably smart people every day. It's easy to get left behind in a conversation but part of the superpower we comms folks have is being able to say 'Hang on, I don't actually understand what you're saying, let's work on finding a way to explain this so everyone gets it." I'm not sure if imposter syndrome ever really goes away but once you realise that pretty much everyone else feels it too, it becomes a lot easier to ignore.