GALLERY COURTYARD: Jayne Keogh didn't mind how much time she gave during work experience.
GALLERY COURTYARD: Jayne Keogh didn't mind how much time she gave during work experience.

Brisbane’s PR queen makes the most of life changes

Jayne Keogh is known to so many Brisbane locals.

For more than three decades she's been seen skipping around town in her stilettos, dark black hair always immaculately coiffed, make-up perfect, and her signature vibrant outfits announcing her arrival the minute she enters the building.

Brisbane's PR queen in the 80s and 90s is a little more subdued now but still operating her own business - Jayne Keogh Public Relations - looking after her clients while simultaneously near to completing a Master of Museum Studies at the University of Queensland.

Jayne is proof that it is always worthwhile learning, no matter your maturity or your career experience.

Her motivation to study something new and perhaps change careers at this late stage in life came from heart-break, but she has turned sadness into joy and through learning now has a life filled with happiness and purpose.

"I had a horrific marriage break-up after a long time together," she said. "I had been betrayed for the duration of my marriage and when I found out it was the biggest shock of my life. Everything I held dear was shattered. My self-esteem in tatters."

Throughout the heartache, Jayne never missed a day's work, always putting her clients first.

"I have been in PR for more than 30 years," she said. "I just kept going. It was all I knew to do.

"I started my career at Myer, a dream job for a serial shopper and fashionista. I hit my straps in the 80s and had never worked so hard in my life. I did 12 hour days for months on end. Then the recession we had to have (thank you Paul Keating) came and the accountants followed.

"So I set out on my own with my own PR business and I am still here."

Over the years Jayne has worked on accounts promoting products, destinations, and business as varied as fresh produce to boutique wineries.

"I could do PR in my sleep," she said.

After she had grieved for her broken marriage and recovered her shattered self-esteem, she decided a change was called for and began researching with her typical thoroughness.

"I had always wanted to be an artist or an archaeologist, but was talked out of both by my parents who were concerned I was too sensitive for those professions," she said.

"Now, all these years later when I wanted a change I looked for a position that was close to those two, and museums came up tops.

"It was more realistic for my stage in life."

At an age when she could so easily have sat back and just shopped and socialised a lot more, Jayne enrolled at the University of Queensland in a three year part-time program in Master of Museum Studies. She took to it with a passion and enthusiasm that still surprises her.

"I wasn't nervous," she said. "I was a bit quiet in the seminars at first, and then once I got my first High Distinction for an assignment, you couldn't shut me up.

"Studying holds no fear for me. I was well advised by a couple of the most senior people in this sector, Professor Suzanne Miller from the Queensland Museum and Dr Ian Galloway, her predecessor."

Jayne continued to work for her PR clients during the day, operating her business with the same professional approach, and then hitting the books at night.

"I would sit down after dinner with the iPad and then again for a full day on the weekend," she said. "I read, read, read, then I wrote, wrote, wrote. Sometimes I looked at my watch and saw it was 1am. The night had flown."

There was no concern for Jayne that she was studying with people younger than herself.

"I had a lot of life experience," she said. "I had travelled. I'd been to most of the important museums and art museums around the world. I understood that museums have to pay their way. My PR and marketing background helped me understand that. I can contribute to that as well. I have a foot in both worlds."

At every chance, Jayne offered herself for work experience in museums all over the country, working for no wages on weekends and during her holidays, turning up even when she wasn't expected, doing every job from the menial to the important, getting her hands dirty while gaining valuable hands-on experience.

"Every semester break I worked," she said. "I have worked in London at the Florence Nightingale Museum, in Sydney at the Powerhouse and the Sydney Jewish Museum, at Vaucluse House, Hyde Park Barracks, Museum of Sydney and the Queensland Art Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art. I have loved every minute of it. It has made me feel valued."

Jayne consciously selected museums and positions that were new areas to her.

At the Museum of Sydney she was Visitor Services Officer on a school holiday Lego exhibition, helping children build with Lego, taking tickets, cleaning up between sessions..

At Sydney Jewish Museum she worked on the collection, storing hundreds of objects from the Holocaust and updating the collection database.

She listened to survivors audio tapes and summarised their stories into smaller bites to use on wall texts and the website.

At the Powerhouse she worked in the Communications Department on media releases and alerts for event websites when the Museum was preparing for the Collette Dinnigan Exhibition.

She planned a detailed marketing plan to attract more in-bound tourist at Vaucluse House in Sydney.

"The most exciting was working in London at the Florence Nightingale Museum," she said. It's just across the Thames from Westminster.

"Every day I would come out of the tube just as Big Ben was chiming 9.45am and walk across Westminster Bridge, so excited that my life had changed for the better.

"I wrote a new marketing and PR plan for them. They thought it was funny that like a true Londoner I complained about the tourists cluttering up the place."

Now fully recovered from her broken marriage and brimming with joie de vivre, Jayne is a role model for all those who have gone through a bad period, especially those of a certain age who are in a rut and don't believe change is possible for the mature person.

"I've met so many new people," she said. "I still have old friends. All say they are proud of me and admire my courage in doing this. But I don't think I'm doing anything special at all. Except I have to confess one thing, when I started this study I assured my long suffering friends I was only aiming to pass each course.

"Sure enough, the perfectionist and serial high-achiever in me kicked in. Now I am really put out if I get a Distinction rather than a High Distinction.

"I can't recommend study high enough. There is no down side. You have nothing to lose even if you don't ever actually get work. You have achieved so much...and frankly, made yourself a more interesting person."

While Jayne is happy running her Brisbane-based PR business, a change of career would be welcome.

"If the good fairy waved her wand and I could pick, my dream job would be at the Victoria and Albert in London," she laughed. "But realistically I would be happy anywhere. even a small regional museum."

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