/  2024   /  Quick chat with James Thornhill

Quick chat with James Thornhill

You’ve been a journalist and content editor for many years. What do you love about what you do?
I love storytelling, and especially the buzz you get from telling a yarn that nobody has heard before. When you get feedback that shows that the story has resonated with the audience, then that makes the effort all the more worthwhile. I’ve also always enjoyed the process of putting content together: talking to sources, doing the research, and then joining the dots to shape it into a compelling narrative.

What have been the highlights of your career so far?
I covered some big stories at Bloomberg, including the Juukan Gorge episode that engulfed Rio Tinto, and on a lighter note Elon Musk’s bet with Mike Cannon-Brookes that he could build the world’s biggest battery in South Australia within 100 days. Those two are standouts. At Westpac, it’s been more about shining the spotlight on some of the bank’s unsung heroes who are doing incredible work in their communities.

What do you like about working with one of Australia’s largest companies?
Westpac is involved in almost every aspect of economic life in Australia, from providing mortgages to homeowners, to financing giant renewable energy projects, and that diversity of opportunity means that the job is never dull.

The onus in my role at Westpac is telling stories that the bank has a right to tell, rather than being on the hunt for the next big scoop.

What is important for people to know about content creation with large corporates?
An understanding of their key messages is crucial. When pitching to a major corporate you need to ask yourself, is this likely to align with their over-arching mission? I’d say it’s also important to have in mind a social media strategy to support your pitch. Most corporates are keen to elevate their social media presence and content, but some lack the resources to do so effectively, so there’s often an opportunity there.

What skills do you think are the most important for freelancers to acquire?
It goes without saying that an ability to write well is essential. I don’t think we’re at the point yet where you can get ChatGPT to do the work for you, although an understanding of generative AI and how it can assist the storytelling process is certainly a big advantage. The other thing I’d mention is social media savviness. Knowing what sort of content works on each different platform, from TikTok to LinkedIn, as well as an understanding of Search Engine Optimisation can really set the best freelancers apart from the pack.

What are you hoping to communicate in your panel session?
I hope to offer some insight on how a big corporate such as Westpac approaches the use of freelancers, and how you can best position yourself to win commissions.

What learnings are you hoping that people will take away from your session?
The importance of knowing your target audience – both in terms of the client you’re hoping to write for and the audience they are looking to reach. When a big corporate hires a freelancer it’s because they have a need, but not the in-house resources to meet it. As such, it’s in the freelancer’s interest to make their interactions with the company as smooth and efficient as possible. If they have a good experience working with you, more than likely they’ll send more work your way.

The conference theme is all about futureproofing your career. What steps are you taking to futureproof your own?
We’re fortunate at Westpac that there are lots of great training opportunities. I try to take as many of those as I can. In particular, it feels like generative AI is coming at us like a freight train and I’m keen to keep up with technological developments in that area to help me do my job and stay relevant in the modern workplace.

Do you think the future is exciting for freelancers, and if so, why?
The disaggregated media world we’re now in offers a host of opportunities to freelancers, so it’s exciting in that sense. But there are also financial challenges in the industry that can make it tough going if you’re a solo operator. Perhaps what I find most exciting is that you can go as niche as you want – the key is creating content that you’re passionate about and there should be audience for it if you position it correctly.

What are you most looking forward to at the Summit?
I’m looking forward to meeting new people in the industry and finding out what challenges they’re facing. It’s also an opportunity for me to learn how we can work better with freelancers to unearth those story gems and lift our own content.


James is a Day 1 panelist for How to find corporate and B2B content work.


Find out more about James on his
profile page

Post a Comment