Q&A with Justin Clark, new Managing Director of Sefiani Communications Group

We ambushed Justin after a client meeting and sat down with him for a coffee and a brief interview to get more insight into Sefiani’s new Managing Director.

Let’s start at the beginning. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Surrey, England.

I understand you went into the Army after school. What did you learn from your time in the army?
Yes, I joined the British Army when I was 19; did Officer training at Sandhurst Military Academy and was then commissioned into the infantry. I suppose I was drawn to the adventure and camaraderie the Army offered.

I learned a lot about teamwork in the army, and what makes a good leader – and a bad leader. A good leader wants to help their people grow and learn. They want to build an environment and a culture that allows their team to thrive and succeed.

Where did you go after that?
From there, I went straight into financial communications, doing some work experience with a company called Gavin Anderson & Co. At the time, Gavin Anderson was one of Europe’s leading PR agencies. I liked it and ended up staying – a month of work experience ended up being the start of a twenty-year career.

What do you see as your pre-Sefiani career highlights?
One highlight was heading up European communications for a FTSE 250 merchant bank, Close Brothers. We had some interesting times through the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. Although we didn’t call it that at the time! There were new issues and crises almost weekly; it was high-stakes communications, and everything was incredibly public. Close Brothers had recognised there was trouble around before the crisis broke and had prepared accordingly. We took advantage and used our competitive position to start some campaigns to rebuild corporate and consumer trust in financial services.

What made you move from London to Australia?
I had met my wife, Holly. I met her when she was travelling in the UK in 2000. She left Australia as backpacker, and returned to Aus with a family and a truck load of furniture!

How long have you been here now?
Eight years. I love Sydney – the city, the people and the weather. It’s a wonderful place to live.

What drew you to Sefiani?
Having worked for large, international companies with various offices around the world, I was drawn to working for an independent consultancy like Sefiani. When you work for large international companies there can be a lot of distractions from the global network. There are certainly benefits to working with a global team, but those benefits are sometimes less pronounced in Australia, as we have a unique market here. Sefiani is an independent consultancy and we can work quickly and act entirely on our own judgement, experience and expertise; there aren’t any obligations slowing us down or restricting our decisions.

What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities we’ll face in the near future for PR?
The contraction of the Australian and global media is a big issue not just for the PR industry, but for independent journalism and providing that check on society that’s so important in any culture. At the same time, it’s this contraction that’s providing opportunities for us in the communications industry as clients need help and advice on what other channels they can utilise to meaningfully engage their audiences.

Enough about work. What do you read on the weekend?
The weekend editions of The Australian Financial Review and The Australian, a bit of Crikey, and the Wall Street Journal Asia, amongst others. I’m also a big reader of The Guardian, which has great in-depth analysis and presents some interesting alternative views.

Any exciting holidays planned?
Thinking Thailand or Vietnam. Great cultures, great people and fantastic cuisines.

If you could get the whole team to read a book, what would it be?
The Trusted Advisor by Robert Galford. It’s full of advice about how to become an incredibly good consultant, and how to develop deeply trusting long-term relationships with clients.

Any favourite quotes?
“Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” – That’s from Richard Branson.

Thank you. Back to work, the company isn’t going to manage itself.