Throughout 2015 PRINZ will be interviewing senior PR practitioners about their career, discovering what they believe is the key to being successful in PR, what tips they were given and have used in their career, and what they expect of a junior PR practitioner in 2015.
This month we feature Christchurch-based Anne-Marie Robinson, MPRINZ, a senior communications advisor at the Christchurch City Council. Anne-Marie and her colleague Linda Bennett won the PRINZ 2015 Supreme Award for their project ‘Home truths – communicating the risk of landslides to Port Hills residents’
How long have you worked in PR/Communications industry?
I’ve worked in communications for the last 14 years – mostly at the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Social Development and now Christchurch City Council. My time in communications has been intertwined with some of my most intensive years of parenting too. I’ve had a pre-schooler for 12 of those 14 years and have mostly worked part-time thanks to some wonderful managers who have been very flexible and supportive. I’ve been lucky and have had many opportunities and some very challenging projects but I’m still hoping the best is yet to come with my youngest child starting school in February.
What attracted you to the industry?
I was working as a journalist at NZPA and began to feel a bit vulnerable during some restructuring. I signed up for a postgraduate course in PR through Massey University motivated by nothing more than the need to claw back a feeling of job security. To my surprise, I absolutely loved it. Many of the things I enjoyed about journalism are also part of public relations – becoming absorbed in writing, the challenge of quickly building a rapport with people, and engaging with contesting viewpoints.
Did you complete tertiary study? If so, what and when?
Most of my study was through the University of Canterbury, I’ve got an honours degree in history and a post graduate diploma in journalism. I’ve always wanted to do further study in PR and completing the APR course through PRINZ was hugely helpful for me. It helped me feel like I was a really solid practitioner, filled a few gaps in my knowledge and the good feedback I got gave me much more confidence interacting with clients and senior managers.
What has been your favourite piece of work to date?
I probably should say our award-winning Port Hills project but it wouldn’t be true! The end result, the accolades and the fantastic relationships we developed with the project team were all deeply satisfying but the process of getting there felt like a nightmare at times. Revamping internal communications at the Ministry of Health is my favourite project so far – it was just me and another mum both working part-time (the story of my life!) but we tapped into lots of support and wisdom within the organisation and had so much fun coming up with some creative solutions, including a brand new intranet called MOH@WK and horse-racing themes for our Gallup engagement surveys!
What is the most valuable piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
A friend in HR told me to always work with the best people you possibly can as so much of what you learn is through that everyday role modelling of good practice, and I’ve taken that to heart. My piece of career advice to anyone who knows that both their family and their career will be a big part of their lives is to make sure you find a supportive partner who will share the workload at home and take your career seriously too. My mother-in-law is your original hippie feminist and if it wasn’t for her raising a fantastic human being, I don’t think I’d be where I am today (and yes I have thanked her!).
Who do you look up to/who did you look up to as a young practitioner?
I struck it lucky sitting next to Fiona Cassidy on my first day ever in PR! She was busy putting dots on cars as part of an immunisation campaign, while I had to launch a diabetes waita CD at Parliament and had no idea where to start. Fiona really helped me out, we got great media coverage, the songs were played on iwi radio and the band even went on to bigger things! She has been an ongoing influence, as has Peter Abernethy from the Ministry of Health. Peter is an amazing strategist and I still hear his voice in my head when I strike a tricky situation.
What do you expect of young practitioners that they may not be aware of?
I like to work with people who focus on being really decent human beings, as well as being the best they can be professionally. In PR you can face some really tough situations and in my opinion it is no place for overly shallow or aggressive people.It is never too early in your career to think carefully about your values, reflect on how you behave under stress and pressure and think carefully about how and why you make decisions and the type of advice you give people. I arrived in Christchurch post-quakes but have been really impressed by colleagues here who show real empathy, resilience and perspective that has no doubt been honed through the challenging times they’ve lived through. Incidentally, you can’t live here and not realise what a huge difference good communications can make to people’s ability to cope with difficult and uncertain situations – it has been a great motivation for me professionally.