Annie Rahilly in the #CommsCorner


Annie Rahilly is a Senior Media Advisor for the University of Melbourne. This is her second career. Annie trained as secondary school teacher (at the University of Melbourne!) and worked the hard yards in Melbourne’s Western Suburbs. Though a chosen career, a personal change in her life pushed her in a new direction. After working for the Victorian Government for two and a half years, she moved to the Royal Children’s Hospital as Communications officer: proudly contributing to five Good Friday Appeals. Her interest in all things medical  came in very handy when she became the Public Relations Manager for Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. After 10 years there, she took an opportunity to move into the Higher Education sector.  Her favourite medium is radio. She loves a glass of bubbles, a good book and any British crime series.

Annie Rahilly

Photo by Peter Casamento

Your elevator statement – who are you professionally and personally?

I am a Public Relations/ media advisor with over 20 years of experience in the Government, health and higher education sectors. I believe in PR for the greater good. I am a talker. I never stop thinking about ideas and stories. I especially like to help media find the right person for an interview or a story. It is said in the office, that establishing and maintaining connections is one of my strengths. For me, it is all about helping people. I love my job and I have loved my work throughout my career. It is important to want to come to work. Though I may start the day with my catch phrase “What fresh hell is this?” it is said with great gusto and good humour. It helps me to prepare for the unknown!

Tell us about your typical day in communications?

Every single day here is different. We are a team of about seven and we have a great group of enthusiastic interns as well. We have responsibility for our own faculties (I look after Engineering, bio-medical engineering and Architecture, Building and Planning) but there is lots of ‘collision’ between us. Phones can either be very busy or on the quiet side depending on what is happening. Every day involves timely responses as well as short-term and long-term planning. It is about having an immediate answer, which expert can help and where to place a story.

When did you first know you wanted to work in communications?

I must have had a sense of it at school as I loved to talk and I loved linking ideas. Teaching was a great start as it makes you face fears, it prepares you to do five things at once and you have to choose words carefully. Skills that I have taken with me into the next career.

Who’s your communication hero/mentor?

I have been fortunate to have met some wonderful mentors along the way. I believe in life-long learning and that includes learning from others; these include Lina Caneva who taught me how to jump on board PR, Christine Unsworth, who conducted 16 Good Fridays and all that this entailed and Celestine Chisholm who taught me how to negotiate tricky Government interactions.

Which tools can’t you live without?

I need pen and paper wherever I go. I carry them in my bag; you can jot down a thought, a remark, a pithy comment worth remembering or your shopping list. While I like my iPhone, I also love the immediacy of the pen

What are the biggest challenges in your role?

Sometimes I joke that we are here to make everyone else happy. However, there is a truth to this, as it is a service culture but it is responsible to manage the expectations of the people we work for.  Not every story will translate to media.

One of the other challenges is to calculate the timing of a story or a campaign and to trust your own senses about your decisions.

Tell us about the best campaign you’ve ever worked on?

In 2007 while at Peter Mac, I worked with an amazing young patient called Clare Oliver. Many will recall her story and how it ended sadly.  A few sessions in the solarium resulted in Melanoma and in September of that year, she died. Clare will never be forgotten as her speaking out against solaria resulted in legislation to ban them in Victoria and other states in Australia.

I worked closely with Clare and her mother to help get her message out to the community, the government and to other young people. The other aspect of this experience was the genuine respect shown to Clare by all members of the media.

Which current communication campaign do you most admire?

I believe the best campaigns are the ones that change behaviour for the better. I can’t go past the social health campaigns we have lived through; seat belts, Slip, Slop Slap, QUIT campaigns.

What’s been the biggest change to communication/marketing/public relations since you began your career?

 I transitioned to this industry just as technology became a part of the way we work. As a specialist media advisor, I believe the biggest change as been the 24 hour news cycle and how this ‘beast’ needs to be fed. This has implications for how we work and the additional demands placed on everyone who works in media and PR.

 What would you cut/continue/change in your communication budget?

Pleased to say, that is not part of my role.  If faced with such a decision however, I would try not to cut roles. Everyone here has something to contribute.

What’s your favourite brand?

I am a huge fan of Victoria’s public hospitals; so many amazing stories, so many outstanding and selfless people working for the greater good of the community.

What book/blog do you think every communicator should read?

Though written many years ago about the advertising industry, there is a book I return to again and again. WAYS OF SEEING, by John Berger.

It was originally a 1972 BBC four-part television series of 30-minute films. The scripts were adapted into a book of the same name. The series and book criticise traditional cultural icons by raising questions about the hidden meanings. For me, it was a game-changer (sorry about the cliché!) and still so relevant today. Everyone should read it or watch it on You Tube.

What tips do you wish you’d known starting out in communications?

That it is OK to have a laugh…. Humour can work wonders. And always treat the TV crews with love and respect. They often last longer than the reporters you deal with.

Finish this sentence: ‘Communication is…’

 Listening to others, telling the great stories of your organisation and trusting your instincts.

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