Benjamin Haslem is Icon’s newly appointed Director of Media and Public Affairs. Ben boasts 30 years of experience as a journalist and communications professional. He is a key member of Icon's PR and Reputation teams, bringing a wealth of experience in the media industry and government relations space.
He opens up about his past, sharing lessons from his career in journalism and what he is looking forward to bringing to his role at Icon.
Where does your passion for the world of public affairs and communications come from?
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawn to politics and government in some form. I grew up in Canberra, where my father was a federal Member of Parliament. One of my great aunts was also involved in politics as the mayor of Hawthorn, VIC - So, it's a passion that has always run in my family.
I've also been interested in media since I was a little kid. Even when I was probably only about six or seven years old, I still recall waiting to pick up the newspapers from the end of our driveway every day and reading the news headlines to my parents. However, it was during my university days that I properly discovered a fascination for communications.
At the time I was studying for a psychology degree and had a chance to familiarise myself with the complex theories behind how to influence people's opinions and attitudes. It all comes down to the ability to override cognitive dissonance - the defence mechanism our brains use to dismiss information that doesn’t align with our existing beliefs and values. While it can be an incredibly hard and lengthy process, behavioral change can be achieved through the use of factual and evidence-based communication.
One of the reasons why I am so passionate about working in public affairs and government relations lies in this fundamental opportunity to communicate persuasively to instill change.
What have been some of the key steps in your career that have led to your role at Icon?
While I have been working in communications for a while now, my first experience of the world of comms was through the lens of journalism.
Back in my university days, I was editing the University of Sydney student newspaper Honi Soit and also worked at community radio station 2SER FM, first as an announcer on a music program and then in the newsroom. My career in journalism finally took off when I became a cadet at one of the leading national publications: The Australian. I worked at the publication in the role of reporter across Sydney, Melbourne, and Canberra, covering news from the Victorian courts and in the federal parliamentary press gallery. I was also appointed as the High Court Correspondent.
After 10 years in journalism, I decided it was time to make the switch to the world of communications. So, I went to work for an independent Public Affairs firm and after a few years eventually set up my own consultancy business with two colleagues.
I can understand the dualism between journalism and public relations now that I've worked on both sides. Above all else, I'm grateful to have experienced a time of significant technological advancement. When I was a young cadet social media didn’t exist and now I work in an agency that is pioneering the use of AI and the metaverse.
What are you hoping to bring to Icon in your role?
I am very excited about having the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience in crisis and issues management as well as helping clients talk and engage more with the government. Alongside the team, I am already working on expanding our media training offering to webinars, which are becoming increasingly important in our digital world.
I have never worked in a full-service agency like Icon before, with access to strategy development, creative, digital, PR, and social media departments all under one roof - so very much looking forward to the challenge of adding my capabilities to the existing talents among our Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane teams.