To mark Majella Pinnuck’s return, AWP spoke to her about why she has come back, the hybrid that skills that today’s large organisations need in their corporate affairs and communications professionals, and the challenge of finding candidates with the right skillset.
Pinnuck (pictured) started at AWP after she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Law from Deakin University. She worked up from research assistant to consulting associate. After four successful years at AWP, she felt a calling to try something different.
During the past two years she has broadened her experience, working at another firm placing executives in HR, digital marketing and corporate affairs roles. She kept busy through quiet times during COVID by completing her practical legal training.
“I seriously considered whether to restart my career as a lawyer,” said Pinnuck.
“But all the while I had continued speaking to Anna. Then over Christmas I really took the time to think what I liked doing and ultimately came back to the decision that I had started at the top with Anna in my first role and that it had grown into a passion that I wanted to go back to.”
One the one hand, she says, she loves the relationships AWP has with each candidate…
“It is just that level of engagement that you have with your client and your candidate. It is a very hands-on process, and you are really coaching someone towards their next career decision. It is a mutual relationship, it is built on a lot of respect and transparency, which is something that I had missed, that ability to speak to people who really value the time that you are giving them.”
Then there is AWP’s unique approach to working with clients.
“It is about working with clients to find a solution that works for them, it is not driven by money or getting a placement on the board. It is a case of ‘okay you’ve got an issue, how can we help because we know all these fantastic people that want jobs, and we want to put them with you and match it up’.”
She was also excited to work with Anna again.
“Anna’s passion for what she does is quite infectious and very inspiring. She takes a consultative, collaborative approach to executive search. She knows these people and these clients inside out. That authenticity shines through with everything that she does, whether it be her roundtable events, general conversations that she is having with people each day or these big assignments that she is taking on, on a global scale.”
So, what is Pinnuck hoping to bring to the role?
“I want to continue to challenge myself and become a subject matter expert that can really aid organisations in their placement of the next professionals that will lead reputation for their company, which is a massive deal.
“I also want to provide counsel for candidates who have very demanding jobs with a lot going on. I want to add value in the consultations we have and be that voice to get them to that next spot in their career and make that informed decision. That is really what drives me. I have got to know a lot of really fantastic communications professionals and I really value those relationships so I am excited to pick them up again and do what I can to assist.”
How has she seen the corporate affairs and communications function’s role change in her time in recruitment, particularly with the rise of environmental, social and governance issues in the zeitgeist?
“The role is becoming more important and is growing in its skill set with investor relations, legal and other skills starting to be brought into that broader corporate affairs role, especially at the executive level.
“That is continuing to present a challenge for people like Anna and myself who are always on the look-out for hybrid skillsets among the individuals in the market to match the roles that clients have.”
Pinnuck reflected on the challenge of finding the candidates with the hybrid skills to suit the rapidly evolving corporate affairs role.
“It’s not as simple as having a role and a candidate and they just go together, it is an adjustment on both sides. As the importance of the function grows it will continue to challenge us to find that mix of skills. We have to challenge both clients and candidates to think differently about how these roles might evolve.”
“It is a fast-moving thing, as director of corporate affairs, you are the reputation protector of an organisation, you are the first point of contact and you are in the firing line, especially if you have got anything to do with holding a media phone. So, the challenge is finding people with these skillsets who are willing to evolve and who understand that things are changing.”
Pinnuck said she has found many professionals who have shifted disciplines into corporate affairs.
“People from say a legal or a sustainability background have been able to move over to corporate affairs roles and broaden their skillset, especially in organisations where ESG is particularly high on the agenda. They have really grown into their roles and seen the other sign of the coin.”
“That is especially the case with legal professionals who are traditionally quite black and white and don’t want to go outside the lines. They are having to learn that there is a difference between what we need to do from a legal standpoint and how things are perceived.”
She is also seeing organisations take their corporate affairs function more seriously.
“Traditionally the discipline was not on the executive but now it typically is, which is fantastic. In organisations where corporate affairs is not on the executive you see a direct correlation as to why: either the company is averse to any kind of media exposure and is quiet on that front, or they are not doing well in terms of their reputation in the market. My view is it is going to have be taken more and more seriously across the board.”
How has COVID affected how the Corporate Affairs function is perceived within organisations?
“People have talked about a lot in terms of the position that Communications professionals were put in during COVID. On the other side I have been working in the past 18 months with a lot of HR professionals. HR professionals in organisations without Communications professionals were required to take on that Internal Communications role and found that they weren’t equipped to do so.
“Communications is its own discipline at an Executive level and I think the trend will continue that way. It cannot be covered by Marketing or by HR, it is its own discipline for a reason.”
What about CEOs: how is their view of the function changing?
“More and more CEOs are seeing the advantage of having someone internally on their team advising them. External agencies do always have a role to play when it comes CEO and Board advice, but the internal role is becoming more and more important.
“You may be in an internal role, but you still have to remain objective and speak like a firm that’s one step back – you can’t be afraid of the repercussions, you are there to give your advice.”
Finally, then, what is Pinnuck most looking forward to about the job?
“Obviously working with Anna again, that is something I have really missed. We both have a passion for the Corporate Affairs world, and it’s been sad not to have that person to talk to do a daily basis about who’s moving where.
“Plus, I am really excited to be working on these roles that are making a big difference within these Corporate Affairs functions and to feel like I am solving big problems for companies with some really great people.”
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