Annalisa is an award-winning cultural producer, communications and marketing consultant and launch strategist. With a degree in Theology and an incoming MA in International Public and Political Communication from The University of Sheffield, Annalisa is a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and an associate member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.
In 2016, Annalisa founded a leading social enterprise, Our Mel, dedicated to exploring cultural identity, Black history and heritage. Annalisa organises community events, empowering & inspiring people to make positive, sustainable change as well as workshops around equality, racial equity and digital communication.
In 2017, Annalisa launched Sheffield’s first Black History Month Festival, a month-long arts and cultural celebration, and became the Vice-Chair of the BAMER hub at Sheffield Equality Hub Network. In 2018, Annalisa started Toccara Laurent, a creative communications agency specialising in brand identity, website design and digital communication. In 2019, Annalisa joined the Board of Directors at Bloc Projects, a visual and contemporary arts organisation based in Sheffield and joined the Board of Directors at Sheffield Creative Guild, a membership cooperative connecting creatives.
Annalisa received a Women’s Centenary award in 2018 and was named on the Northern Power Women 2019 Future List, which recognises those who have contributed and are making a difference in their communities, raising awareness of gender equality across the North of England. In 2020, Annalisa received the ATHENA SCR International Young Professional Leadership Award and became a finalist in the Inspiring Women of Sheffield awards.
Describe yourself/your background in 5 words max?
London born, Sheffield made, Adoptee
How did you get into PR/communications?
I always say, “I fell into PR and Comms through jewellery”. I was a sales consultant working for an independent jewellery company Green + Benz who specialise in diamonds, platinum and contemporary jewellery and at the time they owned two Pandora stores.
The Managing Director was looking for someone to run the company comms and marketing, and I was offered the role based on previous experience.
Funnily enough, I had posted on Facebook on May 12th, 2014, “I wish a job in Marketing/PR would just fall into my lap. Any ideas anyone??” And a month later I went from a jewellery sales consultant at Green + Benz to manage theirs and Pandora Sheffield’s comms & marketing.
Speak your dreams into existence.
What do you love about your job?
The variety of multi-dimensional work across various sectors. One day, I am producing strategic marketing and digital communications plan for an art and cultural festival, and then the next, harnessing social media channels or generating media opportunities for a charity campaign. I love that I span the different sectors and that I can show up as me in the work that I do, without restraint.
What are you most proud of?
In November 2016, I founded Our Mel, a not-for-profit dedicated to exploring cultural identity, history and what it means to be a person of colour in Britain today. The idea formed out of the 2016 Sheffield Black Lives Matter protest due to a realisation that something was missing in the city that is my home. The belief behind Our Mel is that representation matters and that people from a diverse background should shape the stories that are told, and the history we learn if we want to understand where we come from more fully.
Through Our Mel, I established Sheffield’s first Black History Month Festival called Melanin Fest – a month-long festival of arts and cultural events in partnership with over 45 organisations and massive community support. I feel proud knowing that Our Mel has impacted Sheffield significantly and started a dialogue on race that hadn’t been happening previously the city as well as inspiring other Black people to create businesses, platforms and initiates.
What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?
That not everyone will support you or your vision, and even those closest to you may not
think that you are on the right path.
I remember when someone close to me told me three years into my career in communications and marketing that it wasn’t a career, and I needed to think carefully about my priorities. That hurt and doubt crept in. I think the fear of failure or not doing what people think we should be doing can hold us back. And sometimes, we need to block out those voices. Permit yourself to change or to own that space. To show up fully as you are in every given moment.
Now I follow my heart and believe in my vision for my life. And when I doubt myself, I trust that I have got this.
Who are your favourite people in PR/comms and why?
Nancy Wong – Marketing and Public Relations Consultant based in Hong Kong. When I worked for Green + Benz, a high-end jewellery company, Nancy was the Head of Press at Shaun Leane – an incredible jewellery brand and previous winner of UK Jewellery Designer of the Year. Nancy has worked on incredible campaigns including a brand partnership with Alexander McQueen, Boucheron, Marc Jacobs and the V&A. She now works in PR for a luxury brand in Hong Kong, and seeing her career progression and achievements is awe-inspiring.
What skill do you think every PR/comms person has to nail?
Being able to network well and maintain those relationships. Networking has been incredibly beneficial for my work and has opened up a variety of new opportunities that I never thought would have been possible. For example, when I started as a freelance communications and marketing consultant, I didn’t need to market myself much because my business grew via word of mouth out of the network I had built through Our Mel. I then gained further comms opportunities, including two TEDx Talks.
What is your favourite social network and why?
TikTok and Twitter are on trend, but having joined Facebook in 2006, I have seen social media trends come and go. I have been a Facebook user from the early days and have watched its development as a platform. My use of Facebook is mainly for personal use, and years ago I would watch the Facebook F8 Developer conferences. The new product launches had me engaged and kept me with Facebook. However, the platform is steeped in white supremacy and has massive issues with the voices of Black womxn while also constantly silencing opinions and muting accounts.
What’s your favourite podcast and why?
The Fat Love Podcast.
Firstly, because I created the podcast and challenged myself to produce it. Secondly, because it is an open love letter to my younger self and whispers self-acceptance, beauty and joy, the Fat Love Podcast speaks of freedom and loves known. I created it because I never want another person to grow up thinking they are unworthy because of their size, believing that the only way they can make people proud of them or love them is by shrinking.
Who is your favourite journalist and why?
Afua Hirsch is a phenomenal journalist. Unapologetic and knows her stuff. She covered our Sheffield Black Lives Matter protest in 2016, which is where I first knew her from, and it’s brilliant to see how her career has shaped. An absolutely inspiring woman whose work is provocative and challenging.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Have multiple income streams. This advice was given to me in 2018 when I become a freelance communication and marketing consultant. I was starting an MA in International Public, and Political Communication at the University of Sheffield and had left my full-time job. I poured my energy, time and skills into various freelance opportunities which included Marketing and Communications Manager on a two-day festival with Sheffield Theatres and Utopia Theatre, Event Production Manager for Social Arts Summit – an artist-led review of socially engaged arts practice in the UK & beyond as well as Community Engagement Liason for Poet In The City and The British Library.
I then started up Toccara Laurent, a creative communications business specialising in brand identity, website design and digital communication.
How would you describe 2020 in one word?
Who is your coronavirus comms hero and why?
Doncaster City Council did a brilliant job on their Twitter feed breaking down the Government guidance to the public in a clear way, especially on May 13th 2020 showing a brilliant comms strategy.
Finally… Which brand impressed you with their response to Black Lives Matter and why?
Ben and Jerry’s statement on Black Lives Matter and specifically, ‘The murder of George Floyd was the result of inhumane police brutality that is perpetuated by a culture of white supremacy.’
As a brand, they have been consistent in their social justice messages and in 2016, wrote about systemic and institutionalised racism in their statement of support when it wasn’t a ‘trend’ or a knee-jerk reaction. Their statement is powerful, they called for the dismantling of white supremacy (calling it for what it is) and they didn’t dilute their response like I saw other brands doing.