Stephen Olsen: A career in communications management, publishing and public relations

I am an accomplished generalist with tertiary qualifications in journalism, librarianship, adult teaching and a Master of Arts in history, who specialises in communications projects, content curation, writing and research. A chief characteristic of my working life as an independent contractor and freelancer is an ability to move seamlessly between a wide array of roles across diverse sectors and industries.

In summary my cross-sector experience since 2000 – timeline here – has encompassed working in the following sectors:

  • Ten (10) years in the NGO/Charitable sector and at trade unions
  • Seven (7) years in the Public Sector
  • More than six (6) years working in the Private Sector

The following is a brief summary of my experience and achievements:

Communications Manager, NZ Federation of Voluntary Welfare Organisations; Communications Manager (0.5), NZ Council of Christian Social Services; Communications Manager (0.5), Aotearoa NZ Association of Social Workers; Communications Manager (0.5), Community Housing Aotearoa; Communications Manager, NZ Union of Students’ Associations; Communications Support for General Election, Green Party of Aotearoa NZ; Senior Communications Advisor, Public Service Association; Communications Manager, Police Association of NSW (Sydney)

  • One of my projects at the NZ Federation of Voluntary Welfare Organisations (NZFVWO) was a lead role in running a road-trip of ComVoices media workshops for NZFVWO members.
  • As the Communications Manager for the Aotearoa NZ Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) and sole staff member in Wellington I was heavily involved in government relations work with central government agencies and politicians, and promotion of events such as Social Workers Day. As the editor of the association’s monthly magazine I managed a major refresh of its design allied to editorial improvements and moving towards increased use of digital e-bulletins. I presented workshops on communications at two national conferences. I handled all media relations tasks.
  • Under an agreement between ANZASW and the NZ Council of Christian Social Services (NZCSS) I was based in the NZCCSS offices where I acted as their part-time Communications Manager. My major project in 2008 was managing a social justice campaign called ‘Let us look after each other: Aroha Tetahi Ki Tetahi’ timed for the 2008 General Election period. Other activity I initiated at NZCCSS included a Policy Watch blog/ e-bulletin and the first editions of the NZCCSS newsletter Kete Kupu.
  • In my time with Community Housing Aotearoa I supported a national Community Housing conference held in Auckland, project managed a related video that profiled housing projects in Auckland, developed and implemented the ‘Doorways to Community Housing’ campaign and managed advocacy projects and media opportunities for both Community Housing Aotearoa and the Australasian Housing Institute (which also entailed participating in a leadership workshop held in Townsville, Queensland).
  • During my time with the NZ Union of Students’ Associations (NZUSA) I managed events such as the 2012 NZUSA Congress and training workshops, brokered funding for a nationwide Big Questions tour by the NZUSA President ( in partnership with the Constitutional Advisory Panel and Commission for Financial Literacy), project managed a new website presence and an improved social media footprint, and assisted to rebuild relationships with key education agencies and stakeholders.
  • My communications coordination role for the Green Party‘s General Election campaign in 2017 was focused on supporting and boosting communications for regional networks and coordination of an electronic billboard advertising campaign, as well as copywriting and input to videography scripting. I worked within a communications team of six people employed for the duration of the (eventually successful) campaign.
  • During my 17 months with the Public Service Association (PSA) I worked alongside a team of five staff including an in-house graphic designer. As well as roles in managing editorial production of the quarterly PSA Journal and digital communications I was the PSA’s Media lead. I also worked on projects such as member engagement during Government consultation on a new national Mental Health Strategy, and communications support during a long series of industrial disputes.
  • As Communications Manager at the Police Association of New South Wales (PANSW) in Sydney I was responsible for two direct reports – initially a Social Media officer and a Publications officer, later transitioned into two Communications Officer positions with one dedicated to in-house graphic design and videography support. I worked closely with the PANSW President and Executive on all media relations and responses. In addition to refreshing the Association magazine PANSW Police News I achieved a range of improvements to internal communications practice and brand identity and ran a series of advocacy campaigns including #ThumbsUp4SafeCommunities (a morale booster during Covid-19) and #WorthMoreThanZero (an industrial campaign to register opposition to a pay freeze). 

Assistant Public Affairs Officer, Australian High Commission (in Wellington); Communications Advisor, Department of Corrections; Senior Communications Advisor, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry – Biosecurity NZ ; Project Manager, NZ Trade & Enterprise; Project Manager, Tertiary Education Commission; Acting Communications Manager, Ministry of Justice (Collections); Communications Manager, Social Workers Registration Board; Researcher and Project Advisor, Regenerate Christchurch; Senior Communications Advisor, Healthy Quality & Safety Commission; Senior Media Advisor, Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet – Covid19 Group; Senior Communications Advisor, NZ Food Safety.

  • I held responsibility for leading two major public diplomacy projects for the Australian High Commission in Wellington in 2000: the content planning and launch of their first bespoke website to coincide with the Sydney Olympics and promotion of the Centenary of Federation via a book donation (library divestment) initiative.
  • I was involved in a series of intense crisis management tasks at the Department of Corrections and the Biosecurity division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) where I worked on emergency responses to biosecurity incursions. I advised on the release of the first Biosecurity Strategy, was the lead media relations advisor for the Protect New Zealand biosecurity awareness campaign and initiated a Biosecurity journalism award in collaboration with the Guild for Agricultural Journalists. I was a major contributor of articles and editorial direction for Corrections News in 2001 (30 articles) and MAF’s Biosecurity magazine (36 articles) in 2002-2003.
  • My project work at NZ Trade and Enterprise included: speech writing for a presentation by Julian Moore, Group GM Marketing, to the Go Global conference in 2005; providing support for the New Zealand New Thinking programme; and coordinating a review of the NZ Fern branding programme.
  • My year-long contract at the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) entailed working as lead/ sole coordinator for a nationwide consultation on a new Tertiary Education Strategy, involving constant liaison with the office of the Minister for Tertiary Education and education sector leadership.
  • In the mid-2000s I filled short-term contracts for the Ministry of Justice where I managed the launch and media interest in the launch of a new Fine Collections campaign and managed production of a Statement of Intent document for the Social Workers Registration Board.
  • My research and advisor role at Regenerate Christchurch reported directly to the GM of Regeneration Planning, James Lunday. I was employed for a critical phase in stakeholder and community consultation on planning for the City Centre rebuild and also assisted with wider consultation on post-earthquake urban regeneration. My tasks included historical research, presentation drafting and copywriting.
  • In 2017 I was also contracted to provide media support related to the Health Quality and Safety Commission‘s release of a high profile report into adverse events at hospitals in New Zealand.
  • On returning to New Zealand in February 2022 after 3 years working in Australia, I was recruited to a fixed-term position as Senior Media Advisor with the DPMC’s Covid-19 Group where I fielded media calls, maintained a media log and assisted team members. After 3 months at the DPMC I filled a similar short-term role at NZ Food Safety at the Ministry for Primary Industries, again with a focus on reactive media management.

Account Manager, Sweeney Vesty Ltd; Account Manager (0.5), Morris PPR + Common Ground Studio | UrbanLogic; Account Director, Sweeney Vesty Ltd; Communications Director (0.8), Frank Advice | Frank Capability

  • In my two years as an Account Manager with Sweeney Vesty I was a member of the team assigned to providing full-service public relations for Kevin Roberts, Worldwide CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi. As well as extensive website management, I contributed to research for two books on the future of branding for Saatchi & Saatchi’s Lovemarks project, and supported a NZ book tour. I also contributed writing for the NZEdge website.
  • As a part-time Account Manager for Gerry Morris of Morris PPR I project managed the filming schedule and scripting for a Cement and Concrete Association of New Zealand campaign called ‘Coming Home to Concrete’ (see video here). I also worked on a series of projects, including government relations work advocating on behalf of more funding for bariatric surgery and on a marketing campaign for Foodstuffs.
  • As a relieving Account Director at Sweeney Vesty in 2012 I provided strategic and operational support for a major client in Auckland during a major industrial dispute and developed a social media strategy for a New York client.
  • Frank Advice and Frank Capability are sister companies that operate as a symbiotic provider of policy consultancy services and capability development training. My main initial contribution to the business was managing a revamp of collateral in tandem with event management for the formal launch in Frank Capability in November 2022 held at the NZ Portrait Gallery. I also injected a greater focus on client relationship management backed by a successful ramping up of activity on social media channels and implementation of increased audience reach through better utilisation of LinkedIn tools and Mailchimp newsletters. In addition to this increase in routine communications activity I also filmed video clips and generated promotional publicity opportunities.

Project Manager, Scoop Media Ltd; General Manager – Lead Journalist, Newsroom Ltd; Project Manager, Australian Associated Press (Sydney)

  • I supported Scoop Media to initiate and promote two new revenue streams: Scoop InfoPages (essentially a directory service) and Scoop Amplifier (a vehicle for subsidised articles). During this time I supported the emergence of the Community Scoop tab at and also provided support for the launch of an initiative that sought to establish a foundation for Public Interest Journalism (then tentatively known as PublicEyes).
  • I successfully performed the role of General Manager and Lead Journalist for Newsroom Ltd for two years at a time when the company had been acquired as a ‘going concern’ by new owners, Craig and Selwyn Pellett. My focus was on retaining existing clients and developed a broader revenue base with new offerings such as research, collaborative media partnerships and curated publishing. During this time I was also an Associate member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery and was responsible for managing and training a team of up to 9 FTE and casual staff, including management of outsourcing to Fiji. I was the lead writer of featured content and original journalism. See also Portfolio –
  • The project position I successfully undertook at Australian Associated Press (AAP) in Sydney was established to launch a new editorial/ marketing service that consisted of a value-adding software platform for screening and assessing media releases and that suited my area of expertise. I wrote a series of blog posts offering editorial tips and advice, and also recruited and trained new staff.