PR Profile | Alice Collins, Director of Insight Communications
In this PR Profile we sit down with Alice Collins, Director of Insight Communications.
Could you tell me about yourself and your role at Insight Communications?
In 2008 I co-founded Insight Communications with my mum and business partner, Clare Collins. Mum was the Communications and Gold Week Campaign director for Sydney Children’s Hospital Foundation and she was in the early stages of founding Insight. Growing up and while at university I always assisted her projects and decided I wanted to join her new venture as we made a pretty dynamic duo. But she kept saying no. After months of debate I finally won with the argument ‘fathers and sons have worked together for centuries, why not mothers and daughters?’ She couldn’t refute that and Insight was born.
Insight is a very boutique and specialist agency that specialises in cause, culture, community and health awareness campaigns for the not-for-profit and government sectors. We have worked on some fabulous campaigns for Asbestos Awareness, Ovarian Cancer, Cystic Fibrosis, Child Protection, Ability Awareness – creating a level playing field for Australians with disabilities, and victims of serious crimes as well as campaigns for health associations like the Australian Chiropractors Association. We thrive on shining a spotlight on causes and issues that matter.
What is your career background, and how did you get started?
A graduate of Newtown High School of the Performing Arts, the creative arts had always occupied my focus, but with an ongoing interest in criminology, upon graduation I started a Social Science & Criminology degree at UNSW. I missed my passion for a creative outlet and transferred to UTS’s Bachelor of Communications – Media, Arts and Production. The degree was fantastic and allowed me to also study advertising and journalism.
While at uni I was a professional usher at the Lyric Theatre where I was introduced to Australia’s leading theatrical arts publicist, Judith Johnson, who offered me my first publicity role following graduation. She was the most inspirational mentor. I still remember my first day - we picked up David Campbell in Judith’s little Ford KA from the Capitol Theatre where he was rehearsing and drove to the Opera House to do a weather cross with Tim Bailey. I knew then publicity and public relations was what I wanted to do with my career. I publicised big musicals like Dusty, Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake and the World Premiere of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical. Tragically, and very unexpectedly, Judith passed away a few days before Pricilla’s world premiere. It was a heartbreakingly difficult week, but the show had to go on to launch the biggest new Australian musical since The Boy From Oz.
Following Judith’s passing I worked at an arts and entertainment advertising and marketing agency on amazing projects including the Australian premiere of Wicked, but I desperately missed publicity. At the time mum was establishing Insight I was head hunted to work at Universal Music managing publicity for classical and niche markets but I realised I wanted my work to make a difference. Instead of Universal, I left arts advertising and marketing and founded my own company.
What are some of the highlights of your career so far?
I’ve been very fortunate with my career and have had so many incredible opportunities and highlights. Since 2010, my campaigns have received 20 national, state and international peer-reviewed communications awards. While the awards themselves are gratifying, it’s the actual results from the individual campaigns which are the most rewarding because they’re campaigns which have had profound impacts on the community.
In 2014, mum and I were invited to present our multi-award winning 2012 Asbestos Awareness Week Campaign at the World PR Forum in Madrid which also received Australia’s first Comm Prix Award for Communication Excellence in Public Service, it was an incredible honour. While in Europe for the World PR Forum we were invited to present our Asbestos campaign to British MPs at Westminster highlighting the work Australia was doing to prevent the third wave of asbestos victims. Which, for a 32 year old, mother-daughter duo from Sydney was pretty awesome! This campaign was also acknowledged in an Oxford University medical journal as a leader in community health education.
An individual highlight for me was receiving a Young Professional of the Year Award at the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication 2017 AMEC Awards, I was the first public relations professional to receive the award.
A more recent highlight was taking home two 2023 Golden Target Awards in the hotly contested Health Category for two separate campaigns for the Australian Chiropractors Association. I didn’t think Insight’s little Spinal Health Week and Workspace Week campaigns had a chance because it was a highly competitive field. We were going up against four significant national campaigns by major agencies with big teams and even bigger budgets. But we did!
What are you most proud of in the work that you do?
People underestimate the power of communication to make a difference. PR is not all spin or smoke and mirrors. In a world where trolls are no longer just ugly dolls with bright coloured hair, and media outlets are reducing the opportunities for quality, ethical journalism, I know how important strategic communication is in creating positive behavioural change - the kind which can save or change lives for the better.
In 2012, I was establishing a youth arts charity and during a meeting with Mark, a prospective board member who was a 38 year old male IT entrepreneur from Adelaide, for the first time I was struck by the impact my work has had. From then, I fully appreciated the footprint PR for good could have at saving, changing or improving lives.
While discussing our different backgrounds I mentioned to Mark I had recently received an award for my Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month campaign and he stopped me. He apologised for interrupting but wanted to know if I had done the special Teal Ribbon issue of Woman’s Day. I said yes, that was me. And he proceeded to thank me. I was taken aback as Mark wasn’t exactly the demographic to know of a Teal Ribbon Woman’s Day edition let alone to have read it. He wanted to thank me for my work as his mother had been experiencing all the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer and had seen multiple GPs and doctors who had all dismissed her. She’d bought a copy of Woman’s Day with Princess Mary’s amazing sisters Patricia Bailey and Jane Stephens wearing Teal Ribbons on the cover. Mark’s mother read several of the case studies and the health report and immediately identified with the women sharing their stories. Woman’s Day in hand, she saw a new GP and demanded a CA125 blood test which led to exploratory surgery where she was diagnosed with stage 2 ovarian cancer. She was told she was lucky she hadn’t left it any longer. Mark said without that magazine she would not have felt empowered to advocate for her own health. This is just one woman we know about; there would be countless other individuals who have been educated about the various diseases or conditions we have publicised, who like Mark’s mum, as a result of the media articles would have gone on to have treatment.
There are also those who, over the past 12 years have Stopped Playing Renovation Roulette saving themselves and others from exposure to deadly asbestos fibres because the National Asbestos Awareness campaign had educated them about the dangers of legacy asbestos hidden within one third of Australian homes.
When I guest lecture at UTS, I always finish by telling students that you don’t have to be a doctor to save a life, an environmental scientist to save the planet or psychologist to improve the mental health and well-being of an individual. You just need to be a strategic, effective communicator.
What's the most valuable lesson/advice you've learned about work in the PR/Communications industry?
Education that can save and improve lives would be impossible without strategic and effective communication. Contrary to Daniel Cleaver’s famous quote from Bridget Jones’ Diary, PR is not just ‘fannying about with a press release’. To be an effective communicator you need to be strategic and remember most campaigns are marathons not sprints. You need to be able to assess and find the right vehicles to disseminate your message and you need to be aware that behavioural change doesn’t happen with just one message, one communication tool or through just one campaign. A strategic, multi-touch and well executed communication strategy is required along with lots of blood, sweat and tears.
Could you tell me about a recent campaign or project you have worked on that has been particularly interesting/successful?
After working with victims of serious crime, families of international familial child abduction and our asbestos education campaign, we wanted to be able to help more individuals and families. In 2020 we founded our own registered charity, Advocacy Australia to shine a spotlight on important human rights issues and give people who’d been silenced a voice.
In 2022, our 2021 Asbestos Awareness Month campaign picked up two Silver Golden Target Awards in the categories of Pro-Bono and Low-Budget. Our budget was a humble self-funded $400 and covered media distribution and costs associated with a story on A Current Affair. You don’t need a huge budget to be effective, you just need to be strategic and think outside the box. We are currently about to wrap up our 2023 National Asbestos Awareness Month campaign. Now is in its 10th year, the campaign is still unfunded, conducted by Insight in a completely pro-bono capacity.
A particularly interesting project we are currently working on through Advocacy Australia is campaign for the family of a 10 year girl who was brutally murdered by a 14 year old female relative. Our focus is in working toward bringing about positive change for victims of serious crimes by improving the way they’re treated by a system that has failed them and enable the provision of adequate support services for parents of murdered children.
Not all our campaigns are media centred. Due to a suppression order limiting media coverage, this campaign is tactically targeting key stakeholders. While it’s still very early days in what will be a very long journey, we’re excited to have already secured immediate support for the murdered child’s parents and the possibility of bringing about change for anyone who’s suffered as a result of a heinous crime. This campaign, like Asbestos Awareness Month, is also entirely unfunded.
What is something about your work or yourself that people would be surprised to learn?
Creating campaigns for good is great for the soul. Unfortunately it’s not so good for the bank balance. While it’s not the glamorous reality many believe PR to be, it is hugely rewarding. Many not-for-profits ask us to work for free or for unrealistic fees. They all feel their cause deserves the best, but want the best for free. We have to politely remind them that like them, we have financial responsibilities, and just as their staff take home a salary we must be remunerated accordingly. I’ve also observed many charities fail to put a financial value on the outcomes of communication. Public relations is not just an ‘hourly-rate service’ that practitioners provide. It’s the IP, specialised skill and expertise dedicated PR practitioners bring to every campaign that initiates behavioural change to bring about long lasting benefits.
What advice would you give someone trying to develop their career in PR/Communications?
In the current media world with diminishing media outlets, professional communicators need to diversify their skill base and develop skills in digital marketing and hone their strategic capabilities. A comprehensive and detailed strategic approach is a requirement for the 2024 professional communicator - there’s no way around it. But most importantly, don’t let your budget limit your thinking… anything is possible!