PR Profile | Lily Partland, Head of Media at Oxfam Australia
Could you tell me about yourself and your role at Oxfam?
I’m passionate about social justice and human rights, and love global politics and news, which makes my job as Head of Media at Oxfam Australia pretty much ideal! I’m responsible – along with my team - for building awareness of Oxfam’s work and supporting our public advocacy efforts through the media, as well as helping protect our great reputation. I work with colleagues across areas such as policy, campaigns, programs and fundraising, and regularly collaborate with co-workers across the globe. Sometimes I’m deployed internationally to humanitarian emergencies to support the organisation’s response.
What is your career background, and how did you get started?
I’ve been a media and communications professional since graduating with my journalism degree 16 years ago. I worked my way around rural and regional Australia, as well as Southeast Asia (working in print, broadcast and online journalism), before landing a gig with ABC News in Melbourne. I then stumbled into the international NGO sector via a former colleague, found my ‘dream job’, and have worked for three of the world’s biggest NGOs over the past eight years.
What are some of the highlights of your career so far?
Being where global news is breaking or evolving is always surreal. I was in northern Iraq as Kurdish forces began an operation to retake Mosul from ISIS; in the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh after hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees fled across the Myanmar border; and recently in southern Turkiye after it was devastated by a massive earthquake. But it was connecting with people - including incredibly inspiring local colleagues who were also impacted by these crises – and hearing their stories that were most humbling and memorable.
What advice would you give someone trying to develop their career in PR/Communications?
Be flexible and adaptable, and say yes to opportunities, as you never know where they’ll lead. Also, take time to build and maintain your network, ideally in person, not only with journalists but within your sector and your organisation to ensure you’ve got your finger on the pulse and can identify challenges and opportunities. Chatting is not a waste of time - it’s part of the job!
What are you most proud of in the work that you do?
Helping to open people’s hearts and minds and create change by highlighting the voices of people who otherwise might not be heard. For example, in 2021, there was an escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Parts of Gaza City were devastated, and it was terrifying and traumatic for everybody there. It was a rare occasion when Aussie media focused on that conflict, and I was so proud to watch our incredible local spokeswomen speak so powerfully on programs like The Project and to work with them to have an opinion piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald. It felt like the dial shifted slightly at that time, and people’s eyes were opened to the impact of the blockade and the conflict on everyday people. I felt like we played a small part in that.
What's the most valuable lesson/advice you've learned about work in the PR/Communications industry?
The value of communications can often be underestimated by those who don’t understand how it works. Highlighting its critical nature and explaining its function within your organisation is a perpetual PR campaign in and of itself. It can sometimes be difficult to measure the impact of your work, so take opportunities to showcase it when they do arise. And while I’m a big fan of consulting with colleagues where they can add value or offer a useful perspective - when it comes to the crunch, trust your instincts.
Could you tell me a bit about a recent campaign or project you have worked on that has been particularly interesting/successful?
I love working on Oxfam’s ‘What She Makes’ campaign, which pressures Australian fashion brands to pay a living wage to their workers. My colleagues work behind the scenes with brands to get them to make commitments. Sometimes they choose not to do the right thing. However, it’s incredibly satisfying to see them reconsider their position when they start receiving enquiries from my media contacts.
What is something about your work or yourself that you think people would be surprised to learn?
Despite spending my days reading about awful things that are happening to people across the globe, I don’t find my job depressing. To the contrary, it’s incredibly humbling and inspiring to work with like-minded people to effect change.