As Shelly writes below, I met her when I was just starting out. I had always had an interest in being a TV Presenter, so while I was making jewellery & in the every early stages of the brands startup, I would do short courses on the weekends to learn how to present in front of camera. As it turns out, one of my very first teachers was Shelly Horton. While I never went on to have a career as a TV presenter (although all of the training I did, greatly benefits my career today) Shelly did; and one of the sassiest in the game. How you read the interview below, is what it is actually like to sit & talk to Shelly (with a few more expletives thrown in!). My admiration for Shelly runs deep, but one of the things I admire most about her is how she speaks her truths. Not only for the industry she is in, is this rare, but for women & women in business. Shelly’s candor below, and the gracious way in which she shares her hardships is what the SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is all about. I have no doubt you will be inspired by Shelly’s story, and on a personal note; Shorton, thank you for believing me from the very start & for all the love & support over the years. With all my gratitude – SWx
NAME: Shelly Horton
COMPANY: ShellShocked Media
TITLE(S): No title. If you can’t work out that Shelly runs ShellShocked, we can’t be friends.
How would you describe yourself in 5 words? Loyal, driven, entertaining, loving, passionate
What is the long version of how you got to where you are today? God! I have to go back 23 years to map out all the highs and lows. I grew up in a small country town in Queensland called Kingaroy. I moved to Brisbane to do my journalism degree at University of Queensland with a double major in broadcast journalism. I was top of my degree in radio, but my secret love was TV. I just wasn’t brave enough to say it out loud. Saying you want to be on TV is like blowing your own trumpet. It’s not the Aussie way. So I worked in radio, which I really enjoyed but I still had a yearning for TV.
I got my TV break in London when a sports presenter lost his voice and I was asked to read the sports news. It was a disaster but the head of the station saw that bulletin and gave me my own entertainment show. It was my dream come true at just 23 years old.
I moved to Sydney confident and happy. But the TV industry can be brutal. Channel Nine hired me as a reporter/producer on the Australian version of Entertainment Tonight but then a month later told me I wasn’t the right “look” for Channel Nine. I was a size 10, but I was considered too fat and I had short hair, which was unacceptable on TV in the late 90s. But as it turns out I’m a very good producer, and ET USA poached me to be their South Pacific correspondent. I got to fly around interviewing Hollywood stars.
From there, I worked as a producer at A Current Affair, and spent a year reading the news on Triple J. I slowly built my confidence again, and got an on-camera job as a reporter on ABC TV which I did for a few years.
I then auditioned to be a co-host of a daytime chat show, on Channel Nine. I beat hundreds of other hopefuls to make it to the final five. ABC TV sacked me because it was in the papers that I’d been auditioning (fair enough really!), but I got the Nine job so I was thrilled!
We had weeks of rehearsals, bonding lunches, wardrobe fittings – and then we were called to the boardroom to be told the show would not be going to air as they were diverting money from daytime to primetime. When I yelped about losing my job one of the executives looked down her nose at me and snarled, “Welcome to television sweetheart.”
Devastated I bumbled around doing guest spots on the Today Show, and Mornings with Kerri-Anne. Then I took a job as a gossip columnist at the Sun Herald. I promised myself I’d only do the job for a year to raise my profile, and ended up staying seven years. In that time, I was headhunted to Channel Seven and was made a regular on Sunrise, The Morning Show and Weekend Sunrise. I left print for a job as co-host of healthyMEtv an online health channel. I loved it so much. After a year, a new boss came in and decided she didn’t want me anymore, and my contract wasn’t renewed. I cried buckets.
From there, I got the job as host of Mamamia TV. I was really proud of the work I did there, but I pushed myself so hard I was exhausted. It was then my husband, and best friend staged an intervention and said I had to stop trying to make other people happy and find a path that made me happy. That’s when it came to me, to be my own boss; I created ShellShocked Media because I was sick of waiting to be chosen. I decided to create my own opportunities. I can produce and present. My unique skill is I’m not afraid to ask uncomfortable questions on camera whether it’s about relationship problems, death or thrush. I am disarmingly honest and open which is rare in this industry. Together with Dr Ginni Mansberg we created Things You Can’t Talk About On TV a web series discussing awkward health issues. God it makes me laugh. I’ve found a niche of making videos for companies that have trouble getting people to talk about their products.
ShellShocked Media launched on Jan 20 2016, & I already have clients like Vagisil, Triumph and Target. It feels like a running start. Doesn’t mean I’m not scared. I’m sure I’ll make mistakes. But I feel like finally I’m in control of my destiny. I’ve identified my strengths and I’ve backed myself. Wish me luck.
Then in the middle of all this I was headhunted to move back to Channel Nine. Proof you should never burn your bridges in this industry. I battled with the decision because loyalty is so important to me, but in the end Nine offered me the stability of a contract and asked me to join their family. I love that terminology and after meeting with the power players it certainly felt genuine. So I’ve signed on to be a regular on Today, Today Extra and Weekend Today. A massive change for me but they have been so welcoming and have made me feel truly wanted. I’m trusting my gut and my gut feels happy at Nine. So new business, new marriage, new alliance with Channel Nine. I feel like a snake that’s shed her old skin. Everything is shiny and new.
I think it is really important people can explain their main message in a concise paragraph – if the above is the full version - What is you elevator pitch on what you do? ShellShocked Media is a brave, new video production company. We create inspiring editorial, native and branded video content. We’re a one-stop shop from initial concept creation, producing, presenting and post-production. What makes ShellShocked Media different is that we’re not afraid of uncomfortable conversations and difficult topics. If you want beige you’ve come to the wrong place.
Are you doing what you thought you would be doing 10 years ago? (If not, what did you think you would be doing?) No. I dreamed of hosting The Shelly Show. Basically I wanted to be the Aussie Oprah. I still think I’ll host the Shelly Show one day but it looks different now. There’s only one Oprah. I’d just be a poor photocopy. I need to be me. Besides I can’t imagine Oprah talking about fanny farts.
What does ‘success’ mean to you, and do you consider yourself ‘successful’? My immediate answer is to say no. I think of success as having the house paid off, taking extravagant holidays and wearing fancy clothes. That’s not me. But then I look back and realise I’m a girl from a small country town in Queensland who’s never been given a leg up. Yet now I’m on national TV giving my opinions three times a week and I’ve started my own company. So hell yeah that’s successful.
What do you still want to achieve (personally & / or professionally)? I really want the Shelly Show to happen. The exciting thing is I no longer have to wait for a TV network to say yes. I plan to film an episode by the end of the year and put it up online. I’ll be popping champagne that day.
On a personal front – boy I’d like to work less. As I’m only starting ShellShocked Media I’m working seven days a week. I figure I need to while it’s getting off the ground. But I’d love to be less anxious about where the next job is coming from. Before I even launched the company, I already have four clients just from word of mouth. My ideal would be to work a four-day week and truly have three days off to relax and let my mind wander and be creative. I get my best ideas when I’m on holidays so that says something.
Did you study anything specific for the career you are in? Yes I did a Journalism degree and I’m so pleased I did. I feel it gave me the foundation of my knowledge and taught me the importance of deadlines.
What have been the most rewarding things in your career to date? I made an online series for Mamamia called Resilience. I interviewed people who’ve been knocked to the ground and asked how they found the strength to get back up again. A 22 year old who first tried to kill himself when he was just eight years old, one of the first people in Australia’s to have a sex change operation, and Jessica Rowe talking about post natal depression and when she got “boned” by Eddie Maguire.
They are 20 min interviews and I made sure I was thoroughly researched so I could do the entire interview without notes but really be present and listen. Every person I interviewed found it incredibly rewarding and I’m sure it helped a lot of people who watched. I’m hoping to film more.
Tell us about your workspace (Office / café / couch / aesthetic) what inspires you about your workspace? My husband Darren and I have a two-bedroom loft. The second bedroom we use as an office. We call it “Creative Corner” We are both very neat and organised so everything has its place (and is labeled). Above my computer I have a collage my Mum made me of when I went to the Oprah shows at the Opera House in 2010. And one of my best friends bought a star in my name, because he thinks I’m a star, so that certificate is framed.
All of my furniture is dark wood. I’ve had spinal surgery so I have an ergonomic chair that my husband says looks like it belongs to Christopher Reeve but I love it. And a footstool cause I’m short. The loft is very light and has a great energy. Even though Darren and I work back to back I still like knowing he’s there. He’s always got my back.
What are some frustrations you have experiences on your career journey? When it comes to women the TV industry is so looks focused. I’ve never been a size eight blonde and I never will be. It certainly held me back when I was younger. It can mess with your head. Men on TV do not get that pressure. Women are always criticised for their weight, their hair, and their clothes. But I think the industry is changing. I’ve changed. I know I’m curvy but I also know I’m now on TV because of what I say not how I look. Having said that I’m still one of only two or three redheaded journalists on TV.
When was the last time you where overwhelmed & cried from something provoked by work / workload? Are you kidding me? I cry ALL THE TIME! I get so mad at myself as I see it as being weak but really I think it’s being human. I push myself so hard it’s common for me to work 80-hour weeks. Then get exhausted and frustrated so the tears flow. Since starting the business I haven’t cried (yet) but I have felt so overwhelmed I get physical stomachaches and spend plenty of time running to the loo with diarrhea (TMI? You’ll get used to me – I love talking about poo!)
Would you say you put pressure on yourself? Has this gotten more or less as you progress in your career? So. Much. Pressure. See answer above. I’ve always thought working harder can solve all my problems. To a degree it can. But I can be a bit of a martyr sometimes, so I’m working on that. I think I put more pressure on myself as I progress in my career because I know what I’m capable of and I have a lot of goals.
If you are a business owner – and you often can’t just check out / have a week off when you are dealing with personal things – how do you keep on keeping on with your business when things get tough? It’s too early to say, as I’m only a couple of months in to this business owner thing. But knowing my history I see it as a huge challenge. I’m hoping to get some advice from others featured on this website!
Has your career affected your personal life / relationships? If so how? Of course. I left a serious relationship to follow my dream of working overseas. Then I moved to Sydney without knowing a single person because I knew it was the hub for the TV industry.
My ex-husband also worked in TV, but unfortunately we were competitive rather than supportive. He preferred to be top dog. I was very lonely in that marriage. But ten years on and a shit load of therapy later, and I’ve learned from that experience.
My personal life and career have blended. I met my perfect match, in my husband Darren. He and I are yin and yang but we make an unstoppable team. He likes to be behind the camera and is constantly learning. He has his masters in sound engineering but he’s adapted to work in TV and video. As the second half of ShellShocked Media he’s taught himself how to do camera, lighting, editing and graphics. He’s even taught himself how to do our online accounting because that is certainly not a strength of mine. He’s the workhorse, and I’m the show pony.
Has your journey at times felt lonely? How? It was hard getting knock backs when I was single and I had to be the one to pick myself back up again. I’ve been chosen to feature in about five TV pilots and none of them have gone to air. Your hopes are lifted and then you smash back into the ground. Now that Darren is in my corner it’s easier and less lonely.
What causes you anxiety / sleepless nights? Mainly workload issues, and work politics. I get overwhelmed and my head spins overanalysing everything. I have a real problem with authority but that is less challenging now I’m the boss! When I’m happy I fall asleep easily.
If you had your time over again, from when you started your career to right now, would you do anything differently? I think I’d choose a specialty and get a qualification in that area to add to being a journalist. I’d like to be an expert in one area. I love psychology.
What advice would you give your 21 year old self? Do as much work experience as possible. When I was backpacking around Canada and America I did work experience whenever I could. I spent an awe inspiring day at CBS with the 60 Minutes team in New York, I’m still gob smacked at how progressive VTV Vancouver was with its sets and diversity of reporters. I was at CBC Radio in Canada when Michael Hutchens died so they got me to voice radio reports so it sounded like they had an Australian correspondent.
Who are some women in business you admire & why? Oprah. I worship her, and sense of making the world a better place by communicating.
Samantha Wills. Yep I remember when she was starting out. I remember teaching her TV presenting. You’ve come a long way baby. It takes my breath away.
Emma Isaacs, CEO of Business Chicks. Massive company, 4 kids, and moving to the US but she’s always got time for a chat if you’re feeling lost.
Jeanine Bribosia, Owner of The Cru Media. She’s my best friend but I’m constantly amazed at her business sense and bravery. She works bloody hard and has a booming business to show for it.
What traits do you admire in people you surround yourself with?
Loyalty. I’m fiercely loyal and expect it in return.
Passion. When you are passionate it doesn’t feel like work.
Enthusiasm. I don’t want to be around lazy people. I like positive energy and working with a smile.
Work life balance… Does it exist (I don’t think it does!) and how to maintain it, or a sense of it Not really. I’ve chosen to not have children, so my life is a hell of a lot more manageable than my friends with kids. It makes me ill to think of how they juggle working so hard and raising a family. That’s way too much pressure for me. But not having kids also means there’s never a point where you have to stop to look after someone else. One way Darren and I hope to have balance is filming travel videos. We shot a couple of videos on our honeymoon in Mexico and Bahamas. It didn’t feel like work because it was fun, we still had plenty of down time and it funded us having a month long holiday.
Have you ever thought about giving up / quitting? If so, does that feeling hit from the same triggers? Why haven’t you quit? I’ve quit plenty of jobs but I could never quit journalism. It’s what I love. Luckily I can, and have, worked in so many areas of journalism: print, radio, TV and online. It’s never dull.
What is the biggest misconception about what you do? That it’s glamorous and easy.
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your industry? Do as much work experience as possible. When I was backpacking around Canada and America, I did work experience whenever I could. I spent a awe inspiring day at CBS with the 60 Minutes team in New York, I’m still gob smacked at how progressive VTV Vancouver was with its sets and diversity of reporters. I was at CBC Radio in Canada when Michael Hutchens died, so they got me to voice radio reports so it sounded like they had an Australian correspondent.
If you knew what you know now, about how much work was involved to get you to where you are now, would you do it again or do something different, if so, what? Nope. I’d do the same thing. I don’t regret any jobs either. I’ve learned different things from each gig. But I’d hope I’d do it with less tears, anxiety... and trips to the loo.
I like the quote ‘Don’t just have a job, have a purpose’ - What do you want your legacy to be? Legacy is such a big word. I just hope I made content that had people laughing and learning. The more we bring taboo topics out of the shadows, the more tolerance there will be in the world.
The SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is about bringing women in business together – why do you think this is important / (why did you want to be involved in this interview)? I’m not a fan of female competition. I live by the motto “There’s enough cake for everyone” and I think women need to share more often. I’ve been involved in mentoring about 25 young female journalists over the past five years. Now I’ve cut that back to ten and we do “Walk ‘n Talk Mentoring.” We meet in Centennial Park and do laps as we discuss problems and successes. I ask them to tell me one thing that’s happened in their career since we last met that made them proud. It’s important for women to celebrate successes, not play them down. I want to teach them to help each other and encourage each other. Then if anyone is having problems at work they raise them and we discuss it as a group. They can always call me for one-on-one advice. I have helped many of the girls when it comes to negotiating their pay, deciding to change jobs, sexual harassment in the workplace or I’ve just been a sounding board if they need to map out a career path. I don’t have kids but these girls feel like my daughters and I’m very proud and protective of them all.
What are some of your favorite quotes? I like quotes on Instagram but I’m not huge on having quotes in my workspace. This year instead of a new year’s resolution I’ve chosen one big word to steer me - 2016’s word is SOAR. “Don’t just fly – SOAR!”