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‘It is about helping them to tell their story’: Brendan Maxwell on defence industry

brendan maxwell
Story telling is key to building trust and public investment in the developing defence industry says Brendan Maxwell of Decisive Point

With a distinguished Army career, Brendan Maxwell has embraced the social media and digital age to reshape the brand awareness of the defence industry and help communicate the story with the Australian public, aiming to build trust and transparency.

With a distinguished Army career, Brendan Maxwell has embraced the social media and digital age to reshape the brand awareness of the defence industry and help communicate the story with the Australian public, aiming to build trust and transparency.

Following 17 years with the Australian Army and reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel serving tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Beirut with the first joint public affairs unit, Maxwell has enjoyed a varied career in the Army.


Upon leaving defence, Maxwell established Decisive Point, which provides key strategy, reputation and communication support services for corporate clients to tailor the message to key stakeholders. In the latest issue of 'On Point', Defence Connect speaks with Brendan Maxwell about the power of communication and storytelling for the defence industry.   

Phil Tarrant: The world is changing as well and I'm seeing a lot of defence industry businesses thinking about the world a little bit differently now. The way in which organisations and Defence itself can communicate has evolved rapidly, and Defence Connect is part of that story and I think 10 years ago you wouldn't have been able to get a CEO of a major prime onto a podcast, at least with a conversation myself without months and months of preparation. 

Today, it's about them rocking up and just having a bit of a chat about what they're up to, so, the energy and aptitude of defence CEOs of SMEs themselves, in terms of how they communicate with the market, the market being the customer, whether the customer's a prime or the government themselves, or the people they're looking to enhance their capabilities to deliver them these capabilities is changed rapidly.

There's another pebble in this marketplace now where helping organisations achieve that. One of them is Brendan Maxwell, he's the director of a company called Decisive Point. He's in the studio with me today. And we're gonna have a chat about this evolution and how people communicate, and Brendan, your views on who's doing it well, what they can be doing better, and where you think this future's gonna go.

It's complicated in sort of industry, but defence just exacerbates that considerably so. You're ex-Defence yourself, so you come into this world knowing the intricacies of how the DOD works in particular. I mean, what's the back story Brendan? It's big ask, and it's a lot to cover off in 25 minutes, but welcome mate.


Brendan Maxwell: Thank you Phil for the opportunity. Not just to talk about the Decisive Point, I guess our programs and our point of difference, but I really encourage your listeners to be invested I guess in developing a plan, communicating a plan, and sort of protecting those hard fought reputations. So I thank you for your time. 

Very humbled, very proud to have served the nation. I was in Australian Army for roughly 17 years, reached a Lieutenant Colonel. Actually commanded a unit called the first joint public affairs unit. Very privileged to have deployed twice to Iraq, twice to Afghanistan, once to Beirut, and just had some real amazing and possibly life changing experiences in deployment. So in support of Victorian bush fires and also search for Malaysian Airlines MH370.

I sort of left Defence as young Lieutenant Colonel and always always wanted to work I the airfield field, so I was able to transition to the world from Defence. I worked first for the West Coast Eagles Airfield team out of Perth, and then came back east to work for The Gold Coast Suns as general manager of strategy, and then as the head of strategy and media for the office of the Commonwealth Games. That sort of gave me a great opportunity to step away from Defence for a bit, get some great experience in the industry.

I set up Decisive Point about a year ago, and The Decisive Point has our clients tell us it's been a game changer for them. But fundamentally, Decisive Point, we just help clients have a plan, communicate the plan, and protect those hard fought reputations.

The name of our business has meaning in the defence community. The Decisive Point is actually military term. And the term fundamentally means, the decisive point identifies a critical factor to win a battle, and I think it's an appropriate title for us cause we're trying to help senior leadership group whether in Defence or defence industry or other sectors like education, state government and sport. Identify those critical factors, help them with it, to achieve their objectives.

Phil Tarrant: So you've been at this for a year or so, but it sounds as though in your former career in the Army you were doing a lot of this kind of work in your role there. Talk me through that point where you just went, stuff this, I'm just gonna open my own business. 'Cause that's often a big call, and I think you've got a couple of young kids as well, so you've gotta put food on the table.

Brendan Maxwell: I think a strategy program is really important, to just have a plan. How do you [teach] your staff to plan, how do you communicate the plan, how do you measure? You talk about communication programs that a number of our clients requesting support. So we spoke about it earlier, how do you come up with strategic comms plan? Which very basically means, how do you align your narrative across all your platforms? How do you do social media to move observers into influencers? How do you prepare for a media interview like today?

And fundamentally that's all about telling their story. Helping them tell their story. And I think it is, it's a noble pursuit if you can help Defence or defence industry tell their story 'cause it's a competitive market. It's a fight for skilled labour. I'm sure many of the people you've had on this podcast have talked about that. And in line with that then, you need to be very sophisticated in your messaging. If you're trying to target skilled workforce, if you're trying to target science technology, engineering, math, STEM kids, how do you attract the best and brightest of strains to come into and industry that traditionally used to see friction between defence industry and Defence?

We're not seeing that now, we're seeing a co-ordinated effort where this is nation-building opportunities and fundamentally it is a noble pursuit. Where defence industry can provide to Defence best kit in the world, best protected, best mobility, best fire power, but fundamentally protect Australian soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen. Look, we're passionate about that. We're very passionate about helping them win a hard fought reputation whether that's a business, defence organisational unit. When they're challenged, when their values are challenged, to actually fill the information vacuum with context, with background.

Phil Tarrant: So coming out of Army, and we've touched on it very briefly, this changing culture between, and you spoke about it, the friction that use to exist, and it's still there a little bit, because it's an evolution between Defence and defence industry, that's much better. Everyone we speak to across on both sides of Defence and defence industry now, talk about this attitude of collaboration. And I think a lot of it, to be fair, is driven from leadership, and some of that leadership is coming out of the Army. 

So cultural change is difficult. Particularly within, people within uniform, to openly connect and engage defence industry. Now, I think some of that we've had Lieutenant Colonel Keirin Joyce who's heading up the UAS program within the Army. Very sophisticated way in which he's communicating. I think he should be the new norm for how Department of defence engages with defence industry.

From your view and your experience working within uniform. Is a cultural shift there? Is the leadership there, to get more people connecting and communicating that way?

Brendan Maxwell: Yeah, it's a great example, the ripper example you gave with Lieutenant Colonel Kierin Joyce who heads up the unmanned aerial systems drones subprogram for Army. And it's a great example. If you choose to communicate with the Australian public, it builds trust, doesn't it? And it helps build public will, which clearly goes around to maintain support and understanding, so it's that context, it's that measure of your programs. And fundamentally, if you choose not to communicate with any audience, let alone the Australian public, then people, other people will tell the story for you.

So to answer your question, Kierin, there are many people, commanders, and junior leaders who are the best advocates for any organisation, whether it's Defence or defence industry. We always encourage our clients to get the people at the coal face to tell the story. Because when you paint a picture, when you actually give that personalised connection, people feel it. They understand it. And the minute you put a human face to a story, people will become invested in it.

So, I think the drone example is a positive one. Now one of our clients last year made a deliberate effort to come up with what we call a strategic communications plan. And very simply put, that is a plan that identifies target audiences, sensitivities, but it comes up with compelling key messaging.

When you have a strategic comms plan, and a social media plan, and reputation plan, but fundamentally, it's all about telling the story. Whether it's on platforms like this, but you only have a short space to tell your story, don't you? You have to have that consistency of messaging.

We're finding a lot of organisations are very interested in having a deliberate effort in thinking the investment made for the capability, investment made for people, for you to choose not to tell your story, is a shame. Because these are ripper stories.

The Australian public are interested, as you well know, you referred to a minister who has been making some game changing opportunities to promote an industry, and $250 billion has been invested in this industry with government industry, Defence, it's not just a co-ordinated message, but you want to attract the best and brightest from Australia to work in this industry.

You don't stage manage this, the story sells itself. And this is a thing certainly uniform personnel would understand when you get your best and brightest, and these are amazing Australians [that] serve in uniform. Often they do want to tell their story, and social media has given them opportunities to do that, but fundamentally, I know senior leadership group always try to encourage their staff to engage with the community. But it's just a bit more, probably industry best practice on how to do that in an appropriate way.

Sure, there's a lot of opportunity for Australians now to get involved, but again, without communicating to them about it, what those opportunities look like, how do they get involved if you're a small to medium enterprise? And the large, the primes, they're screaming out for more best of industry, small businesses to get involved [and] partner up with them.

This is a whole Australian effort. If a tank gets delivered to the Australian Army, that tank isn't gonna be built in one state. Businesses all over Australia helping with the tank and that's the same for submarines, same for building amazing aircraft. And it is, it's an exciting time to be in Defence, defence industry. But I think for us, we do have clients and they care about their reputation, sporting teams the same, it comes down to a plan, doesn't it? If you don't have a plan, align your workforce in a business plan.

If you don't communicate that then the reputation part, when you are challenged, and no ones perfect, no organisation is perfect. But our approach is, as I talked about before, not shaping or influencing. It is showing leadership. When your are challenging a reputation, incident and defence industry, this is big capability. Because this is big programs, big budgets, it's big work forces, it's complex.

The full podcast with Brendan Maxwell of Decisive Point is available here

‘It is about helping them to tell their story’: Brendan Maxwell on defence industry
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