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PR Profile: Troy Bilsborough on how to do more than simply react to government policy

Troy Bilsborough, Managing Director and Founder of Provocate. 

Can you please give me a rundown of your career so far? Troy_Bilsborough_print_8185_reduce

I’ve had a fairly old school career compared to most of the new breed who are running agencies nowadays, in that I started out in journalism as a sports journalist and business journalist, also reporting on politics. Then I took that jump into political advising, and from there worked with two separate Brisbane Lord Mayors, and then going onto federal government, where I worked in a range of areas including as the Head of Strategy and Communications for the Federal Health Minister for three years.

How did Provocate come to be?

When I started the business, which was 2017, I saw a gap in the market. People were struggling to make an impact on government because they were using the traditional methods of either lobbying, or public advocacy, without understanding the machinations that really go into getting things done in government. What I came to learn working in government was that you really need to pull a number of levers together to achieve that. 

In the early days our traditional audiences were NGOs and lobby groups, and then we moved into working with individual corporations more and more, because we saw an opportunity for them to really speak up and have an impact on how the country was run. 

And tell me about what ElectionomicsTM is, and why it was created.

Electionomics is really what the impact of the election cycles are on business, and the function of the country. Federal election cycles go for three years, and there are key moments in every step of the way that I think business overlooks. It's about understanding every step of the election cycle, so that businesses can minimise their disruption, and therefore be prepared to strike at those right moments that are fairly predictable once you understand them. 

What we saw was government relations and PR don't get the seat at the C-suite that they should. They should be sitting at the executive table on a permanent basis, not just having them sitting in the corner, only to be called upon when there's an issue.

So that's what Electionomics is about, it's getting businesses to consider what are the internal and external impacts that are focused on their business, and not just minimise them but actually looking at how to maximise those opportunities. Taking a real leadership role in driving the agenda, rather than just whinging about the policies that governments deliver without making any proactive or constructive input to shape the agenda to their benefit .

Are there any campaigns you’ve worked on that have been particularly interesting or successful? 

As a former Head of Strategy and Communications to the Federal Health & Aged Care Minister, Covid presented a unique opportunity, not just for our clients, but for Provocate itself and our own ability to influence and change government and business policy. For example, we were able to not just help clients secure Australia’s Covid ventilator supply and commercialise, launch a new Australian medical invention changing the game for needle phobia just in time for mass vaccinations and help keep suicide rates down, but also launched Provocate’s own VaxEnomicTM Forecaster for Business. We saw major concerns in talking to the nation’s C-suites as to their understandings of how Covid and the vaccination rollout would occur, particularly around its impacts on business recovery timelines and financing, and over the past six months it’s been a regular tool used by both company leaders, government and media to both track performance, but also identify overlooked issues ahead of time and overcome them with minimal disruption when they arrive. It was something we deliberately wanted to make free as a public service and I’m incredibly proud of the impact it’s helped achieve in contributing to a positive economic and health recovery for companies, communities and the country.  

It’s early days, but have you noticed any trends or do you have any predictions for the upcoming federal election, based on the businesses you’ve been working with? 

I think as usual with any election nowadays, there is increasing lack of confidence in the result due to such a broad range of issues all fighting for attention. It's going to be probably a tight election result. And I think what is typical is that businesses are really overlooking the big issues because they’re focussing on the issues where people are yelling the loudest, rather than listening to what the silent majority are most worried about. I think really what's going to come about with this election is things like budget cuts, ie cost of living — how that's going to affect business, the potential for new taxes… all these sorts of things. 

Personally I think for business the big issue is not looking at what's going to happen with this election which is only six months away, but what's going to happen over the next three years, because realistically business plans are tied three and five years ahead. Really if they want change, and they want stability, it's going to be about what the next three years brings, not the next three months. 

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