Joanne ryan: Influencing Local: Small business advocacy, smart communications and community radio

May 2021

Joanne Ryan is a passionate advocate for small business who uses her expert communications, marketing and public relations skills to maximise the messages of Not-For-Profits (NFPs), government and aligned companies. Her journey to the boardroom began in 2013 when she was appointed Secretary of the Miranda and Districts Chamber of Commerce. She wanted to utilise the lessons that were imparted to her by her former manager from News Corp Australia on how to best serve representative bodies and community groups. Since then, her contribution and dedication to her local community, the Sutherland Shire, has only flourished.
Tell me about the work that you do through your company, Infodec Communications.
I work with NFPs, businesses and governments to develop smart communication strategies to talk to the audiences they want to influence. If it’s a NFP for example, we develop a plan to connect with potential sponsors, research suitable grants and leverage public relations to raise their profile. If it's the government, it’s the other way around. It’s about connecting with small businesses to better understand their wants and needs, and then how the government can be of assistance. You see, I had worked for News Corp Australia for a long time, which is a large conglomerate. My manager had retired, and I thought, I’m 40 and if I’m not proactive, I’m going to turn around and they’ll be doing a retirement for me. I decided to leave and explore what else was out there and joined a small organisation with only two people, which showed me a very different way of working. It was 2009 and it was the Global Financial Crisis so not many people were taking on staff. Then I considered whether organisations would take on expertise with an individual contractor, which is what kick-started my own business. My initial contacts were through News Corp and then, it started to grow organically over time as I reached out to customers, got myself known and networked. These were all skills I learnt from my time with boards and committees.
So how did you enter the world of boards?
It was 2013 and I was keen to get more actively involved in my local community, so I connected with the Miranda and Districts Chamber of Commerce and before long, was appointed their Secretary. The committee was rather antiquated. They were collecting money and tickets at the door and didn’t really understand the power of digitalising the work that they did. That’s where I stepped in. I could also see there was a need to combine all the business chambers and have Sutherland Shire represented by a larger entity. I worked hard with the other members of the Chamber to make them understand the benefits of combining our voices.
What boards do you currently serve on?

  • Enough Is Enough — Board Member
  • International Institute of Communication — Secretary
Why are these boards important to you?
Enough Is Enough was started by Ken Marslew in 1994 following the tragic and violent murder of his son, university student Michael. Ken wanted to reform society’s attitudes to violence and so birthed this organisation. Their approach is different. They work both with the victims and the perpetrators of violence to support and provide prevention strategies for society. I have lived in the area a long time and knew Ken and his story. For a lot of NFPs like Enough Is Enough, I think their communication could be better to engage sponsors and get grants. I’m working with Enough Is Enough to streamline their communications strategy and am helping to make a difference that way. The more their projects can impact society harmoniously, the better.
The International Institute of Communications exists to shape the policy agenda for the telecoms, technology, and media sector. It’s an opportunity to evaluate and discuss policy and regulation openly as a way of not hindering innovation and investment. Even though my work these days isn’t as communications and media focused, I strongly believe in the influence our communication can have on all parts of society.
What boards have you previously been on?
  • Sutherland Shire Business Chamber — Chair and President
  • NSW Business Chamber — Committee Member for Sydney East/First Regional Council
  • Sutherland Shire Council — Member of Economic Development and Tourism Committee
  • Miranda and Districts Chamber of Commerce — Secretary
Tell me about some of your personal highlights?
In 2018, I was appointed President of the Sutherland Shire Business Chamber (SSBC), the new entity that was formed after the merger of a number of local business chambers. This involved setting up the Chamber as a business and changing the Constitution. Under my leadership, the SSBC more than doubled its membership and revenue over a nine-month period and won the Business Chamber of Year Award for the Sydney Metro Region 2019. This is when I felt I had made my contribution and it was time to allow someone else to step in.
What are the areas of expertise you feel you bring to your boards?
Streamlining communication strategies, understanding grant applications as well as supporting NFPs to identify the government’s current activities so they can best sieze upcoming opportunities.
What challenges and hurdles have you had to overcome in pursuing boards and/or serving on boards? What have you learnt?
NFPs don’t have great bank balances so you’re always thinking of smart strategies to influence without impacting the bottom-line of the organisation. It’s sometimes difficult to convince others on the board that spending money is sometimes an investment for the long-term and not a cost. I also find it challenging to set boundaries around my board and committee work, home life and personal business. Fortunately, my family will pull me up often, especially my daughter. She’s a very good sounding board.
How has WOB helped you on your board journey?
I joined WOB after stepping down from the Chamber. I wasn’t sure what was next for me and I wanted to learn about other boards where I could utilise my skills and expertise. I had seen WOB on social media through several people I knew professionally who spoke highly of the network. Since then, WOB has guided my search, helped me to optimise my CV for the boardroom and kept me connected. It’s an invaluable central hub and the input from all the professionals across the network is incredibly supportive. It’s also confirmed what my social beliefs and principles are and where I best can contribute.
What might people not know about you?
In early 2020, I launched the Enterprise show on 2SSR 99.7 FM — a community radio program for and about business and community groups. I so enjoyed working for the Chamber and am still very passionate about supporting small business and NFPs. It was a friend, who is also a presenter, who nudged me to do a training course on radio presenting and now every Monday at 2pm, I run my segment. We talk about topics such as policy decisions, opportunities that businesses might not know about like grants, funding, and incentives through COVID… I like to set myself challenges. It was nerve-wracking when I launched it a year ago, but I love and thrive off being out of my comfort zone and trying new things.
Any words of advice for other women on board journey? 
  • Change doesn’t happen overnight
  • Board members come and go. It’s important to take the time to learn the different personalities that surround the table and how they receive information differently
  • Craft your message accordingly, based on who you want to influence and why
  • Even if people say no in the first instance, look for inroads to share your ideas at another opportunity

About Joanne Ryan
Joanne Ryan is an experienced communications, marketing and public relations professional who works with businesses of all sizes and across many sectors on effective communications, tender/grant projects, sponsorship, and public relations strategies. In 2009, she established Infodec Communications following a long career with News Corp Australia specialising in the areas of marketing, editorial and government relations. A passionate advocate for small businesses, in 2018 Joanne was appointed as the inaugural President of the Sutherland Shire Business Chamber.