Evolution and elevation: Twenty years of Pesel & Carr

This article was originally published in the April edition of 47, Pesel & Carr’s quarterly communications newsletter, and is the first of Pesel & Carr’s 20th year series of articles.


There have been seismic changes in the communications landscape in the 20 years that Pesel & Carr has been in business.

Managing Director, Barbara Pesel, founded the consultancy in 1997, when public relations was often perceived and portrayed as an airy-fairy, Ab-Fab, champagne-soaked, publicity-hungry machine.

Whether that perception was ever fair is debateable, but Barbara has witnessed increasing awareness amongst business leaders about the importance of having the right communication strategies and processes in place.

“I believe our work is viewed as an investment that is vital to future-proofing organisation, particularly in particularly terms of issues management, stakeholder engagement and advocacy.

“Twenty years ago, the industry was all about ‘publicity’ – often garnered for its own sake, without any great deal of thought being given to long-term goals and objectives let alone KPIs. Back then, we faxed journalists, who were a lot more difficult to reach than today.

“Of course, generating positive media coverage continues to form a key element of any good communications strategy, but today’s organisations realise effective communications should dictate how you manage relationships with all stakeholders, while aligning with an organisation’s overall business strategy.”

So, two decades and countless award-winning campaigns later, is it even possible to identify a highlight in the history of Pesel & Carr?

“I think the highlight for me has been just how much I’ve learned,” she explains. “I’ve evolved from being a publicist into a comprehensive communicator, who sits on boards.

“The people I’ve been able to work with are another definite highlight, both in terms of clients and the great  employees I’ve been lucky enough to nurture.”

Work-wise, Barbara nominates managing the publicity around the youngest person ever to solo circumnavigate the globe, Jesse Martin, as a massive opportunity, a huge learning curve and a whole heap of fun!

“That campaign taught me so much,” she says. “I had to give serious thought to issue management, and planning for potential disaster. There were also practical challenges. How do you media train a young kid? And how do you get the information you need while the story is essentially happening miles away, in the middle of the ocean, with limited access to email or satellite? Thankfully, it worked out wonderfully, and it’s a campaign I look back on fondly.”

Barbara also values the contribution her work has allowed her to make in the lives of vulnerable people.

“We’ve done some wonderful and important work with Whitelion, an organisation which has helped change the lives of countless at-risk young people,” Barbara explains. “We’ve also been heavily involved with St Kilda Gatehouse, which works with women involved in street-based sex work. I suppose it’s those projects – real issues that impact real people – that make you take a step back and think about what a tangible and life-changing difference communications can make.”

In an industry that has seen relentless change, not least in the increasingly rapid way information is disseminated and the booming number of ‘authoritative’ online storytellers, Barbara has found it necessary to revisit the strategy for her business.

“We’ve been through three major reinventions over the years,” Barbara says. “When we started out, we were mainly focused on publicity, predominantly working with sports and with well-known food brands. But there are only so many ways you can promote a cheese slice! That’s when I figured I’d go right to the other end of the spectrum, and start working with ASX-listed companies on their investor relations strategies.

“After an intensive three years spent building that new side of the business, we ended up with an extensive portfolio, predominantly mining clients, and proceeded to ride the wave of Australia’s mining boom.

“Eventually, however, I realised that, no matter how interesting or challenging working with those ASX listed companies could be, it perhaps wasn’t wholly satisfying my creative side – and, on a practical level, mining was on the slide. That’s when I decided to re-focus the strategic communications arm of Pesel & Carr on three main areas – education, innovation and sport.”

As the company’s reputation continues to grow, Barbara is keen to ensure her team keeps raising the bar, while continuing to win awards and be seen as an intelligent ‘thinking agency’, with the creative prowess necessary to devise and implement industry-leading, comprehensive communication strategies.

While Barbara has clearly learned a lot about communications strategy over the years, what lessons has she learned in business? When asked the question, she is lightning-quick to respond.

“I have learned you have to leave the ego at the door,” Barbara says. “You can’t waste time worrying or being embarrassed about the things you don’t know. A willingness to ask for help and to work collaboratively is the key to success. I have learned to surround myself with people who fit in with our culture and bring new skills and knowledge to the table.”

When asked what the future holds for Pesel & Carr, Barbara speaks of a shift towards a new kind of team-work. She explains about how she has been dedicating her recent time to building a network of experts across numerous areas, and being able to harness their years of experience and invaluable brain-power as and when needed.

“I now have access to this roster of people with diverse expertise that I can bring on-board, whenever a project requires,” Barbara explains. “I think it’s a great way of working, and any small business should consider it. It means you get to access and work with brilliant people that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to keep on the pay-roll full-time. For example, with our IssuesID+ product, we work with acknowledged issues experts Tony Jaques and Sue Driscoll to help executives identify and prioritise issues, and commit to a shared way forward.”

And what of the strategic communications industry? What does Barbara believe the future holds for an industry that is barely recognisable from the one she started out in twenty years ago?

“The future is filled with opportunities.” Barbara enthuses. “With the increasing rate of technology development and robotics, there is still an important part of human nature that needs to feel connected.  As communication professionals we are storytellers, we build relationship and we engage. I fully expect the next twenty years to be even more fascinating than the last.”

If you would like to join the 47 mailing list, please subscribe with your email address below.