Portland Profile: Paula Iwaniuk

Portland Profile: Paula Iwaniuk

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been told in your career so far?

Having worked in public affairs for nearly a decade, it’s not easy to sort through all the advice! But, there are two that stand out to me: First, don’t underestimate the importance of a firm handshake, eye contact and a smile. Those first seconds are crucial in setting the right tone for a meeting. The pandemic has changed how we interact, but the principle remains the same. Second, don’t be afraid to take a risk and get out of your comfort zone. I take this directly from IBM’s former CEO Ginni Rometty who said, “be comfortable with the fact that growth and comfort don’t co-exist.” Looking back on my career, I can point to so many examples where I took this perspective to heart and was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. When you get to the other side, you will laugh and wonder, “how was this ever daunting?”

What is your favourite part of your job?

The answer is not original and quite “typical” for someone working in public affairs, but it’s truly having the ability to work at the intersection of business, policy and politics. Its having the opportunity to understand clients, their business model and priorities, and how those elements fit against different regulatory frameworks that are constantly changing or how to build some from scratch. This was certainly the case for one of my clients, the Drone Manufacturers Alliance. The EU didn’t have any rules in place, and we had the opportunity to have a front row seat in creating that framework. Decision-making tends to be complicated in most parts of the world, but in the EU, it’s quite special and confusing.

What has been your favourite experience at Portland so far?

Without a doubt being thrown onto a policy panel last minute in front of a +300 audience. It was November 2017 and I flew to Helsinki to attend the EU’s High-Level Conference on Drones with the Drone Manufacturers Alliance. We had secured a spot on a panel focused on current technical solutions. Important policymakers were also attending the event. The night before the panel, our alliance representative was unable to join. The group decided I should be the one to take the seat. Talk about getting out of your comfort zone! I spent the night preparing talking points, reworking the presentation, rehearsing and coming up with a few important soundbites on the issues that mattered to the client. The moment I sat down on that stage next to six industry experts, the nerves just disappeared. I enjoyed every second of the experience, and even had the opportunity to intervene on a few points.  

What advice would you give your 20-year-old self starting out in comms, or to someone entering this field of work?

Be your biggest advocate. Always ask because you never know what the response will be on the other end. Say yes to new opportunities, don’t look for trade-offs. I was inspired after reading an interview with Carolyn Tastand, P&G CEO for Health Care, who underlined this point: it will never be the right time and you will not always be 100% ready, but you need to give yourself the chance to focus on the opportunity and not the noise.

What do you do to switch off from work?

I have an active 16-month-old son who keeps me busy whether its reading books together or spending time at the playground. I have also turned into a speciality coffee enthusiast. My goal is to perfect my pour over technique.

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