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Quick chat with Rob Johnson

You’ve worked in journalism and content for many years. What do you love about what you do?

Meeting interesting people and getting to talk to them about interesting stuff. Crafting stories. Holding a printed magazine that three months prior was just a pile of ideas floating around in my head. I used to love the smell of freshly printed pages, then I found out a lot of printers used ethanol as a base for their inks, which explained a lot.

What have been the highlights of your career so far? 

Getting threatened in the office by a crooked greyhound trainer; running out of money and haggling over the price of an organic apple on a junket in San Francisco; getting kissed for the second time by Kylie Minogue; being hit with a defamation suit by Media Watch… they all made for good dinner party stories, but really, the highlight is working with fun, smart, engaged people doing a creative thing. And long lunches too – they are always a highlight.

The highlight is working with fun, smart, engaged people doing a creative thing. And long lunches too.

You now run your own agency – what do you enjoy about having your own business?

Having some element of control over your own destiny. 

What skills do you think are the most important for freelancers to acquire?

Marketing themselves well, which is a skill that very few possess. Also I think it’s important for freelancers to understand what it is they’re doing that’s valuable to their customers, which isn’t just writing a story, but building an audience.

Why do you think the Summit is important for freelancers?

I think it’s nice to get together with your tribe. The nature of the job means you’re not mixing with other freelancers enough. Plus you might learn something.

I think it’s important for freelancers to understand what it is they’re doing that’s valuable to their customers, which isn’t just writing a story, but building an audience.

The conference theme is all about futureproofing your career. What steps are you taking to futureproof your agency?

It’s hard to futureproof yourself against something that hasn’t happened yet. I don’t think you can futureproof anything – you can have a fair guess about what seems to be happening at present and what you can do to mitigate any problems or grab any opportunities. So that’s what we do. We pay attention to new tech, to what people are writing about in the media, and to where we think new opportunities will arise. We expect to be surprised, which sounds a bit lame, but I’m OK with that.

We pay attention to new tech, to what people are writing about in the media, and to where we think new opportunities will arise.

What are your thoughts on AI / ChatGPT?

I think it’s hard to create artificial intelligence when we don’t even have an agreed definition of ‘intelligence’. So I don’t really feel threatened by AI or ChatGPT at all. I think people who claim it’s going to take the jobs of creative industry workers (or most white collar workers) fundamentally don’t understand those jobs. I find ChatGPT a useful tool for speeding up mundane tasks, so I guess it’s a threat if all you’re doing for work is mundane tasks—but I don’t think that describes what most of us do. So it’s similar to other great labour-saving devices, like the desktop computer, the electric blanket and the toaster. 

I find ChatGPT a useful tool for speeding up mundane tasks, so I guess it’s a threat if all you’re doing for work is mundane tasks—but I don’t think that describes what most of us do.

Do you think the future is exciting for freelancers, and if so, why?

Yeah, freelancing is a great job if you get it right. It’s hard, but hard work keeps you engaged. If you have an easy job you turn into a vegetable. And for people who are good at it, it is always a sellers’ market (and always has been).

What are you most looking forward to about the Summit? (a particular speaker / session, meeting colleagues, or drinks on the destroyer!)

All of the above. Particularly drinks on the destroyer. And finger food. I’m a big fan of finger food.


Rob is a panelist for ‘How AI is impacting the print, digital and corporate spaces’ on Day 2 of the Summit.


Find out more about Rob Johnson on his profile page and you can also read the great posts he’s written for Rachel’s List on generating story ideas, how to pitch and get a yes, and the three types of content you need to know about.

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