This week’s subject of the Grill is managing director of Repute Communications, Matthew Watson. He was ‘Highly Commended’ by the Public Relations Institute of Australia for crisis, media and stakeholder management during the Rena container ship crisis of New Zealand. On behalf of Svizter Salvage, Matthew lead the PR consultancy’s response to the ship’s grounding. Previously, Matthew also won awards for work on the 2007 grounding of the Pasha Bulker off Newcastle and the grounding of the Shen Neng 1 on the Great Barrier Reef. Matthew chatted with Lloyd’s List Australia’s OLIVER PROBERT about the new award, and how he came to work in communications for the maritime industry.
Congratulations of the award
Thank you. It’s always a thrill to be recognised by the industry, especially when you’ve put so much excruciating work into a project. I really think the award is a reflection on the extraordinary work by Svitzer, though.
What has it been like working with Svitzer during the Rena crisis?
Svitzer was obviously at the salvage end, and they asked me to get clear information out to people. It was a pretty good partnership. It’s a shame that they don’t have awards for the salvage boys who are at the pointy end of the business. Some of the stuff they do in some of the most trying circumstances imaginable, just defies belief.
How was the Rena incident unique to other incidents like Pasha Bulker and Shen Neng 1?
It was unique in the sense that the ship was in such a unique position, that it was hard to predict how it would unfold, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. It made press briefings very difficult – especially when some members of the media sometimes have beliefs as to what is going to happen next. It was really a case of getting information out quickly, honestly and clearly to explain the realities at play. Another unique aspect was that it was a long, drawn out issue with a lot of twists and turns.
What is your background?
My background is in journalism. I was on TV for a while doing Nine News in Sydney, then I became a communications advisor for a government minister. After that I branched out to consulting, which is where I first became familiar with the maritime industry – about 10 years ago. It was around that time that a colleague suggested that I get onto Lloyd’s List on a matter, and – being new to the industry and mishearing them slightly – asked: “Who’s Lloyd List?” They promptly informed me it was the industry bible – not an individual! So for about 10 years my focus has been on ports, shipping, salvage and towage. I also had a brief stint as communications manager for Sydney Ports Corporation.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
I like hanging out with my wife and three kids, and I also like trying to stay fit with ocean swimming and jogging. That effort is really put to the test when I’m working on an intensive, ex-tensive crisis like the Rena, when nothing but takeaway food seems to be on offer.
And what might you be doing in an alternative career?
Something to do with writing. Who knows – maybe I’ll write a best seller one day. Although that seems unlikely given my current workload.
A project for retirement, perhaps?
Oh, retirement’s a long way off. I’m having far too much fun right now.
Finally, what’s your favourite meal?
I’ll check with my wife and get back to you on that one.
Okay. How about to drink?
Beer – with a clear bias toward Australian beer. As long as it’s Australian, I’ll probably drink it.