Cair Lerion Blog #2: An Interview with Ngaire Baker

Give us a brief Twitter-sized history of your career so far. 

I started as a newspaper and radio journalist before embarking on a thirty-year career in marketing communications and PR for mining companies and mining-related equipment suppliers around Australia and the globe.

You have spent much of your career in PR, covering heavy industries. What’s your experience of working PR in unfashionable or unfamiliar industries?

Unfashionable? I like that, mainly because I was never interested in what I call ‘red lipstick PR’. Even as a journalist, I was in the bar chasing the politicians or sportspeople for the story: practical and perhaps unfashionable, but it worked for me. I grew up on a large property in Western Queensland, Australia, where you asked a question and you got a straight answer. That has always been my experience of working PR in mining and heavy industry: you ask and they will tell you honestly what they think.

I relate to all types of people, from the CEO to the boilermaker on the floor; its just my personality. I have never experienced any barriers or issues with the people I have worked with and I have certainly seen all sides. From iron ore mines in the remote Pilbara region of Western Australia to organising equipment for a global mining supplier at trade shows in Beijing and Moscow, I treat people how I expect to be treated – with respect – and it always gives me the answers I am looking for.

What are your time-tested strategies for pitching stories?  

Research, research, and research! Nothing puts me off faster than a journalist or advertising agency trying to get my business when they haven’t done their research. Be prepared and, although you can’t be an expert in every field, if you are trying to pitch a story, know your client, know their audience, and know how to have a conversation about the topic.

Heavy industries often receive negative coverage in the mainstream media. Do you have any top tips for controlling a negative narrative – and presenting a positive story? 

Honesty! Stick to the facts and look for the positive in the story. It could be a human aspect, environmental, social licence to operate, education, health, diversity in the workplace… a human angle can always go a long way to presenting a positive story. In the face of disaster – a tailings dam wall collapse, for example – yes, it is a tragic story. However, there are always lessons to learn from disaster: look at the progress made throughout history in the face of disaster; the people who carried out the rescue; the mining equipment used to save lives; the skills of a mine rescue team, who went underground for days on end to work to get their mates out alive. We are human and we make mistakes: present the facts and aim to end on a positive note.    

Walk us through your email inbox. How many do you get a day – and how many do you respond to?!

My role is so diverse, I average 56 emails a day and, if a response is required, I will respond to all on the same day, even if it means I stay late. I am a communicator and I pride myself on a full and comprehensive reply. I will not send an email after 7 PM or before 7 AM, if it can be avoided. I will compose the email and set to send between work hours. If I can get up and walk to another office and reply in person, I will. If I can make a phone call and answer in person, I will. I will not email the person sitting in the office next to me, if I can get up and go and talk to them. In my role, I do need clear and concise records of communication in some areas, so emails are unavoidable; however, nothing beats face to face or a phone call.

Do you have a favourite story or campaign that you have helped develop? 

My favourite would be a campaign to promote a piece of mining equipment for a global organisation. It was the ugliest but most vital piece of equipment. Its job was to transport the miners to their place of work every day and bring them to the surface at the end of their shift safely. The machine went deep underground and only saw the light of day when it was on the surface for a maintenance overhaul or replacement.

I was asked on my second day with this company to organise a video/photo shoot with this machine in an underground mine. I would work with the selected agency to get this footage (something the company had been trying to do for eight months). I was able to organise the video shoot within 24 hours. Then I met with the agency, a group of red-lipstick PRs, who thought a group of 20+ people could “pop underground for an hour or so and film this machine”.

How wrong they were and I told them!

In the end, four of us went underground: myself, a cameraman, a sound engineer, and the director. The other 16 stayed in the city. Not only did we get some incredible footage of the machine in its work place, but the miners blew them away with their down-to-earth personalities, the conditions they worked in, their skill and expertise. I arranged some human interest stories while we were underground (see there is always a positive side to a story!) and left with far more than expected. The campaign about the ugly machine went viral; it was so unique that a major online ad agency in the US picked it up and wanted more; social media couldn’t get enough images and information. The campaign even had a full-page advertisement in one of Australia’s major daily newspapers!

Ngaire Baker has over three decades of experience in marketing and PR in the heavy industrial space – principally within the Australian mining industry. She is currently External Relations Manager – Mount Pleasant Operation at MACH Energy Australia Pty Ltd.