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Territory business success story

Elena Madden

Elena Madden at work

Elena Madden fulfilled every employee’s dream when she bought out the boss.

She had only been at Darwin-based communications firm Michels Warren Munday for 18 months when managing director Jane Munday decided to go into semi‑retirement and start a PhD.

Elena, who was born in Katherine and raised in Humpty Doo, jumped at the chance to take over.

“I was terrified but I knew I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t take this opportunity.”

Jane helped with the management transition and still acts as a senior adviser.

“She entrusted me with her great reputation and gave me her full support,” says Elena. “That was amazing and I’m very grateful.”

The new boss took advice from many friends and industry experts.

“The advice wasn’t always consistent but I took onboard what worked for me,” she says.

The firm was rebranded as True North Strategic Communication - and won a Telstra Business Award last year.

It specialises in strategic communication and public relations, media relations, community and stakeholder engagement, marketing, issues management and strategic writing.

The company’s greatest strength is community engagement; the team was contracted to review and update Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park’s media industry guidelines in consultation with key stakeholders.

Extensive consultation included spending time with senior Anangu Traditional Owners to understand their values, aspirations and concerns, interviews with people in the media, arts and tourism industries, and workshops to bring together parks staff, Anangu and other stakeholders.

The project won Best Investor or Community Relations Campaign in the 2019 Mumbrella CommsCon Awards.

“Community engagement and strategic communication is our core business. We know what we do well.”

Elena worked in Brisbane for a while after gaining a communications degree from the University of Queensland and then went to work at Rio Tinto’s Argyle diamond mine in Kununurra for three years.

Elena enjoyed the Kimberley - although she admits that “three years in Kununurra is long enough” - but pined for the Territory.

“Going away from the NT is necessary,” she says. “It gives you perspective and makes you realise how good this place is.”

She was given a transfer to Darwin to work in Rio’s external affairs team for the Ranger uranium mine and later joined Michels Warren Munday.

Elena says one of the keys to business success is recruiting good staff.

“They are your best asset - take on people who are smarter, better and faster than you,” she says.

“We hire for culture, people who will fit in with what we do. We can teach everything else.”

True North has built up a vast knowledge of northern Australia.

“That local knowledge is very important, especially in the Territory.”

She also believes that companies should settle on their core business and ‘go hard at it’.

Elena will present as a Territory business success story at:

The OBM Great Debate in Alice Springs

David Staughton in Nhulunbuy