This month, the focus is on our newest member of the team, FSA Communications and Promotions Consultant, Dr Katy Johnson. Katy joined FSA as a consultant in 2016, when she was tasked with designing and developing a website to communicate ‘forestry’ to the wider public, since then she has spearheaded the development of the TIPWG website, the new FSA website and social media channels, TIP-Mag and the FSA recreational map among other things. Katy has been instrumental in implementing FSA’s new Communication Strategy and has, through her efforts, significantly improved FSA’s value proposition to our members.
Dr Katy Johnson – FSA Communications and promotions
“I will never forget my first experience of SA Forestry”, Katy laughs, “I had been invited to a working group meeting by Dr John Scotcher. It was only after I arrived, did I realise that I had been allotted some time to do a presentation – I thought I was just there in a listening capacity. To say I was nervous would have been an understatement, the room was almost exclusively made up of men, who were mostly older than me and had a lifetime of experience in the industry. When I first sat down, I didn’t have a clue what to say but as I listened to the other speakers talk with passion and conviction about the overwhelming social, environmental and economic benefits the sector yielded it became clear. I also should credit John for helping with my nerves, as he introduced me as a ‘women he met on the internet’ and if that is not an icebreaker, nothing is. After I cleared up that we met via LinkedIn, I had one message – the Sector needs to start promoting social, environmental and economic benefits of forestry. At the time, I did not realise the impact these words would have.”
While Katy did not initially dream of a career in forestry, it is fair to say forestry has turned into her dream job. “From the age of eight I knew I wanted to be like David Attenborough, exploring the world and its wildlife – only I wanted to be behind the camera rather than in front of it. To do this, I gained a biology degree and PhD after a careers advice counsellor suggested it would be the best way of securing work with the Natural History Unit of the BBC – something I never managed – I then did a film course in Cape Town, before applying to every wildlife production house in South Africa. Luckily for me, one based in Kruger National Park was looking for interns and offered me a three-month placement. This turned into a six-year dream job, living and working in the Park, which included every kind of adventure imaginable, as well as a few that still terrify me now. It came to an end after a close encounter with a cheetah when I was 7.5 months pregnant, made me realise my dream job and future role as a mother, were simply not compatible and it was too late to choose the former. I have to admit, leaving my dream behind was hard and at first, I wondered whether I would find anything career-wise that I was equally passionate about. Thankfully forestry found me, and I can honestly say I am now living my dream job version 2.0.”
What is it about forestry that you love?
“Initially I was drawn in by the challenge of communicating the science, ultimately that is what wildlife documentary making is all about and it is the same with forestry. There are so many sides to this industry, so many applications, aspects, impacts and benefits. Most have a scientific basis, and the challenge is communicating this in such a way that those listening absorb the message and become excited about forestry’s potential.” Communicating forestry is not without its challenges, as Katy explains “communicating anything science-based to a non-scientific audience ultimately requires trust, as this bridges the knowledge gap. With forestry, there are a lot of long-standing myths that harm trust and need to be addressed if we are going to change the way people outside the industry view forestry”.
When asked about her biggest accomplishments, Katy is quick to acknowledge that while there are numerous projects that she is immensely proud to be part of, none of these are hers alone.
“I am fortunate to work with countless inspiring and truly talented colleagues, who guide, support and facilitate me in every aspect of what I do. Dr Ronald Heath has been an incredible mentor over the past year and the driving force behind the new FSA communication strategy. Roger Poole and Jacqui Meyer are a joy to work with on TIPWG and together we are delivering a wide array of content for the website, external publications and of course TIP-Mag. TIP-Mag, in particular, holds a special place in my heart, as I am passionate about communicating science at a level where it is accessible to all and I believe this is what TIP-Mag does. I get a great sense of accomplishment looking at the new FSA website, which was a team FSA effort although special mention needs to go to Judy Dowsett for her patience and copy-editing skills. I love how the website is constantly evolving and yet there is still a place for the initial Forestry Explained site at the heart of it. It is impossible to talk about Forestry Explained without mentioning the influential role of Dr John Scotcher and the Environmental Management Committee (EMC), who still play a pivotal role in the production of key messages that form the foundation blocks for anything we do communication-wise and of course Sam Choles, who has taught me so much. Then there are all the Women in Forestry initiatives that both inspire and humble me, it is an honour to work so closely with all the incredible women involved in this initiative under the guidance of chairwoman and friend Khosi Mavimbela. For me, the greatest accomplishment is having a career that enables me to work on a variety of incredible projects with a plethora of talented, inspiring and wonderful individuals. Who needs Attenborough when you work in forestry!”
Katy’s enthusiasm for the forestry seems impossible to dampen, especially when discussing whether anything about the Sector still takes her breath away. “The diversity of it. I think that is why I fell in love with South Africa in the first place, the rich diversity of people, the wildlife, the landscapes, the geography and cultures. The same goes for forestry. It can be experienced, communicated and felt on so many different levels and this makes it magical. No two days are the same – so many people that I have interviewed in the industry have said this to me and its true. One day I could be visiting a community project, the next working on a Performance-Based Systems transport paper with Francois Oberholzer, or interacting with our social media followers – there are so many different aspects to what I do and different people I can meet. I love the ever-changing nature of forestry it is what inspires me, fascinates me and leaves me breathless.”
Any future aspirations?
“Tons! Our 2021 budget has just been approved and we have numerous new and exciting initiatives planned for next year – I really cannot wait to get started. On a personal note, I am also studying, doing a Postgraduate Diploma in Digital Marketing, as I think this will help tremendously when it comes to future awareness campaigns. So, 2021 is shaping up to be a cram-packed and fun year!”
Finally, any advice for those looking to enter the Sector?
“Forestry is so diverse, that I believe there is something for everyone. The nature of the Sector means that it is constantly evolving, reinventing itself, pushing boundaries – it never stands still. If you are looking for a career path where you will constantly need to grow, that offers countless possibilities and you are part of a workforce that cares – then forestry is the perfect career path for you. Ultimately, I would say – follow your dreams, when you do, you cannot go wrong.”