Dave Robinson was president and CEO of Hill+Knowlton Strategies for Australia, Middle East, Africa, South and Central, when he suddenly passed away in 2012. In honor of Dave’s fervent belief that adventure is the best way to continue education and his passion for understanding and overcoming cultural differences, H+K established a scholarship program in Dave’s name. Every year since 2013, the Dave Robinson International Scholarship has provided 5 colleagues from the international H+K network the opportunity to take on a three-months assignment in one of the more than 80 offices worldwide to bring their talent to new areas and to challenge themselves in new ways. The deadline for applications for the 2016 program will end on July 15. A central part of the application is a short video of max. 90 seconds outlining the candidate’s motivation for the transfer. We have spoken with our Canadian colleague Stephan Telka, who was in Sydney as a scholar in 2015, about the program and his experiences.

Stephan, why did you choose to apply for the Dave Robinson Scholarship in 2015?
My work in Canada is quite a niche in the H+K office network – working on the public engagement team in Ottawa to ensure the public’s voice is heard by decision makers. I had also been in the unusual situation (for an agency) of working on one project, nearly 100% of my time. I therefore saw the Dave Robinson Scholarship as a chance to spread my wings – both professionally, and personally. It was also communicated to me many times how international the firm was, and we often communicate this to our clients. Perhaps because of the file I was working on, or because Canada is such a big operation (9 offices) in the H+K family, I didn’t feel that I had any links to the “international” aspect of H+K.

What did you focus on with your application?
I was very careful to follow the rules – limiting my video to 60 seconds (although the videos this year can be 60-90 minutes), and making sure I answered the questions the selection panel was looking for. I got some good pieces of advice after my first unsuccessful application. One was to do a bit of research about the offices around the world (for example, through the regular e-mails from our international leadership) in order to make a more targeted application (e.g. are there skills or tools that H+K has acquired through a recent acquisition that you would like to tap into? Or reversely, is there an office that is trying to build a practice area, but could use your help?). Another suggestion was to remember that H+K is a communications company, so put some time and effort (and creativity) into how the video is put together. My video was seemingly quite simple, but I was able to get a friend to help me film and edit it, which made for a better final product.

How much effort did you put in the application?
My application package likely took 4-5 hours to put together. I was really motivated to be selected, having applied once before. The letter of recommendation was straight forward, as my manager put that together. And getting verbal thumbs up from my office manager was easy as well, once they understood how the program works, and what the financial implications for everyone involved would be.

What offices did you have in mind for your international assignment and why did you go for Sydney in the end?
I had really been hoping to go to Singapore or Bangkok, with my third choice Sydney. I had been hoping to be submersed in an entirely new culture, rather than in another predominantly English-speaking, Commonwealth country. In the end, the stars aligned best for Sydney – they were eager to host me, they were able to host me during the time frame I wanted to leave, and the President of H+K Americas (Mike Coates) supported my rationale for wanting to go there.

Did you continue to work on your Canadian accounts in Australia? What support did you get from H+K Canada to give you as much time as possible to learn?
I worked almost entirely (90%) on new files in Australia – with only a bit of time devoted to helping out my team back in Ottawa. From my understanding, this is really the focus of the program – to let participants leave whatever projects they’ve been working on for a while, and let them totally immerse themselves in a new team, client, work environment, and culture. My team in Ottawa were very respectful of the goals of the program, and only reached out when they really needed my help or expertise.

What are some of the highlights of the work you did in the Sydney office?
I was fortunate to be invited to help out on a pretty wide variety of files. Highlights included launching the TomTom Spark GPS Fitness Watch, during which I was put through an intense training circuit with Australian health and technology writers, and got to meet former Olympian Matt Shirvington, TomTom’s brand ambassador Down Under. I also pitched in with Take Heart Australia, a pro bono client aiming to dramatically increase the survival rate of Australians who suffer a sudden cardiac arrest. I was on site to help film a series of promotional videos featuring comedienne Tegan Higginbotham and puppet “Resus Andy”, and later joined hundreds of Sydneysiders at one of the largest stadiums in town on “Take Heart Australia Day” for a mass CPR training session.

Why should colleagues in Germany apply?
The Dave Robinson program is a chance to turbocharge your career at H+K. It’s a chance to get out of your comfort zone (professionally and personally), and see our company from an entirely new perspective. It’s a chance to see a new part of the world, and really get to know it over the course of a few months. And it’s a chance to truly build your network within the firm. Flights, accommodation, visas and some basic related expenses are covered. It’s an incredible opportunity and perk of being part of H+K, and if you’re thinking of one day working abroad in another office, this is one way to get your toes wet. Based on two exchanges I did in Germany, I know that Germans love to travel and engage with the wider world. I’m excited to see a German become a fellow recipient.

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