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OUSA communicator ‘top young public relations practitioner’

The Otago University Students’ Association’s communications co-ordinator, Alasdair Johnston, is this year’s New Zealand Young Public Relations Practitioner of the Year.

Otago Connection issue 5

“It’s all about getting a positive message out in the community to represent the majority of students.”

Alasdair Johnston loves nothing more than telling everyone what a great bunch of students there are at the University of Otago.

“AJ”, as he’s best known by many around campus, is the communications co-ordinator for the Otago University Students’ Association (OUSA).

It’s a role which sees him promoting the students and helping organise the wide variety of events they get involved in, from Orientation to the annual Capping Show; as well as Battle of the Bands, Student Volunteer Week, Market Day, Art on Campus; the list is endless.

He’s been doing such a fabulous job, that this year AJ was recognised by his peers winning a national public relations award, the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand’s (Prinz) Young Practitioner Award.

Simple philosophy impresses

Not having come from a communications background, AJ admits to some trepidation attending the awards and disbelief when he found out he’d beaten a young public relations executive for a large international restaurant chain to win.

But it seems the judges were impressed with AJ’s story. Prinz chief executive Simone Bell says AJ’s essay told a compelling story about his career development and the strength of his objective-setting and the outcomes achieved.

Ever the public relations campaigner, AJ says his philosophy is simple.

“It’s all about getting a positive message out in the community to represent the majority of students,” the 26-year-old Masters of Entrepreneurship graduate says.

“A lot of students came here to have fun, they are at the best university in the country and at times they can get tarred with the brush of some past students.

“My philosophy has been ensuring we are proactive and not reactive and negative about the few students who, at times, cause trouble.”

A little help from his friends

A former Otago student himself, graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce prior to undertaking his Masters in Entrepreneurship, AJ worked at the Business Incubator prior to taking up his role with the OUSA.

It was there he realised communications and public relations were areas he needed to work on and was eager to take up his role with the University.

He’s quick to credit OUSA general manager Darrel Hall and the University’s Head of Communications, Megan McPherson, and her team at the Marketing and Communications Division for helping him grow in his role.

“Megan’s a bit of a mentor for me,” AJ says.

“The OUSA now works a lot more closely with the University. We all realise it’s better to work together; and on a personal level as well, having older and experienced people to talk to - because I don’t have that experience - has been a great thing.”

A true lover of the University city, AJ has just bought his first home in Dunedin and now has somewhere to proudly display his latest acquisition - the glass trophy he won as Young Public Relations Practitioner of the Year.