Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW
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Corporate PR via journalism and rugby

Nigel Kassulke giving his talk after formal dinner

He’s had his journo days and his Wallaby days – but these days, Nigel Kassulke’s passion lies in corporate communications. Working as a Director for the leading corporate communications firm Cannings Nigel provides strategic communications advice to national and international clients on their interaction with the media, financial markets, governments and key stakeholders.

It’s no wonder then, that when speaking at the Wednesday night dinner in April he told the Warrane boys about the importance of telling their story – something, said Kassulke, that is important whatever they do in life. He gave them a short introduction to the world of corporate spin doctoring, starting with where the profession came from.

Where did the corporate communications industry evolve from?

“It really started with a chap called Edward Bernays,” Kassulke told the boys. “He was a nephew of Sigmund Freud, and he traded on this relationship – that was how he sold himself.”  Bernays did some propaganda work for the American military during WWI and then set himself up as a public relations counsel in 1919 –  he was the first to use this title and was responsible – some would notorious – for some of the most famous publics relations campaigns of all time, including a campaign that bacon and eggs was the true all-American breakfast.

He argued that we live in a complex society, “And companies and organisations are looking for an advantage in that society,” said Kassulke. “They’re all striving to gain favour and the public has an interest in what they’re up to. So you have to deal with it….”

“So Bernays thought that people were now educated, they were enjoying democracy, so they expected a voice in those big companies …so given this, there was a requirement for expert advice about how to present yourself effectively.”

“His contribution was to demonstrate that you need to tell your story, so particularly in the fifties and sixties, and in the United States when there were those big debates over race and war were being played out in the mass media, these strategies on how to create the right impression became central to those campaigns.”

What does creating one’s story come down to, according to Kassulke? 

“It’s about persuasion, whether convincing others to work with you, or explaining to adversaries the consequences if they don’t… I’ve seen it time and time again: the world is changed not by people who are right, but by people who can convince others that they are right.

“And that’s why language is just as important as content – you have to get that language and that communication right.”

The benefits of communicating well

This is all well and good, but how much did it apply to those who aren’t in the communications industry? Quite significantly, as Kassulke pointed out to the boys.

“There’s a real battle out there at the moment over language and there’s a battle in the public square as to who can contribute to that public square, particularly in debates on social and economic values…. The public square at the moment is up for grabs – and it needs people of real character.”

“All of you here tonight have an inkling that what we are all long for is wholeness, wisdom, and goodness – yet how is that reflected in the public square dominated by aimlessness?

Kassulke continued: “You have to get your language right but it also need character to take that argument to the public square and to put your case without apology.  I think there are some real consequences if you do that now and there are better men and women than I that grapple with it every day – whether or not they’re going to live in genteel poverty because of their beliefs.”

“And this includes those of us who call ourselves Catholics, because if we really believed that Jesus Christ is who he says he is and if we believe that the Catholic Church is who she says she is, then we need to live like it.

“It not as if we don’t have any role models and everyone should watch A Man for All Seasons at least once a year.”

Kassulke said the great commentator and writer on ethics Leon Kass says that the only kind of people who can reach genuine nobility of character are those willing to spend “the precious coinage of the time of our lives for the sake of the noble and the good and the holy.”

“And this is the challenge – it’s one of the great manly things to do….”

Kassulke ended on this note for the boys: “You will be called to make important decisions in your career, and you have this wonderful reserve of Faith, teaching, and intellect you can call on, and that is a very great privilege.”

Photographs from the evening are available here

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