From telco PR to industry advocate

By Hamish Fletcher

Paul Brislen has worked as a journalist and in public relations. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Paul Brislen has worked as a journalist and in public relations. Photo / Paul Estcourt

He has switched sides of the fence once before in his move from journalism to public relations.

Now the former head of Vodafone communications is switching again - this time to lead the industry lobby group he locked horns with during the last four years.

Today is Paul Brislen's first in his new role as chief executive of the Telecommunications Users Association, commonly referred to as Tuanz.

The association acts as an advocate for customers in telecommunications issues, and its members include the likes of government departments, supermarkets and universities.

Brislen replaces former chief executive Ernie Newman, who stepped down from his job at the end of September last year.

Throughout Newman's reign, Tuanz was a thorn in the side of Vodafone and Telecom in its call for lower mobile termination rates - the amount telcos charge each other for calls on their network.

Brislen will continue with this line and was nonchalant about how his old colleagues could view his defection.

"When I left journalism and went into PR, the same question was asked: 'You were always on the same side as the customer and banging the drum about getting better deals for everyone, what's going on?'

"And now I'm coming out of PR I get the same type of questions, 'you were always a staunch advocate for Vodafone'. Well that was the job - I was the spokesperson for Vodafone. I'm going to be just as vigorous on this front."

After reporting on the industry for almost a decade, Brislen then became known for his ardent advocacy and defence of Vodafone. He said his passion came out of his fervour for the industry more than a love of Vodafone and believes his new position will give him the ability to make a lasting difference.

"[We need to] talk about the big picture stuff, let's talk about the rural [broadband] initiative, and how we're going to bridge the digital divide for rural communities. Let's make sure that when we roll out this type of technology that it goes to all New Zealanders so that everyone can benefit from it.

"My kids have never known an unconnected world, and I'd like to make sure that every family in New Zealand has the chance to do that because there's so much value in it," he said.

Tuanz's new boss said if the industry can sort out faster broadband, then New Zealand can escape the "tyranny of distance".

"For too long, telecommunications has got in the way of people doing their jobs and living their lives in the way they want to. If we can get the telcos to deliver the services and let people get on, I think suddenly New Zealand is in a very great position to benefit from the telecommunications era, rather than suffering from it," Brislen said.

"Suddenly we're as close to New York as we are to London, to Washington to the North Shore - it's right on our doorstop, it's one click away," he said.

After three months' leave Brislen is excited about getting into his new role and keen to experience the industry from another perspective.

But his underlying philosophy of improving things for customers will not change.

"It's actually been quite persistent, everything I did at Vodafone was based around the customers. And now I'm doing the same thing from the other side."

- NZ Herald

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