How to Be a Good Communicator: in Conversation with Annie Alley

By Jordan Kercheval, Minerva Intern —


Annie Alley is a partner at Firmani + Associates (F+A), a Seattle-based communications and public relations firm. She’s a graduate of Washington State University, long-time friend of Minerva Strategies, and one of the most vibrant and smart communication professionals we knowShe also works closely with our friends at Dignity Period, a nonprofit organization that provides menstrual hygiene supplies and education to girls in rural Ethiopia. 


Fellow WSU grad and Minerva Intern Jordan Kercheval recently talk to Annie about her career in communication – she rose from an F+A intern to a partner in the business – and the latest and greatest at Dignity Period. She also taught us a thing or two about rodeos.   


What drew you to the world of communications?  


Ah, that’s a tough question! There are a lot of reasons, but I love communication because it allows me to dive deep and learn about different clients and industries. I feel fortunate to translate technical, proprietary, or other novel information in a way that is valuable to many different audiences.  

When I was growing upI didn’t know public relations existed. Then in high school I became acquainted with a woman named Tracy O’Day – one of the greats in the Seattle PR scene  and I watched how she worked. It was fascinating to me, and that’s when I became interested in PR as a career.  


What does it look like to be a good communicator? 


You have to start by listening and asking questions. Once you start asking questions, everything else becomes easy. You also need to make sure you understand the subject matter you’re trying to communicate, because if you don’t understand it, your audience won’t either. Make sure you know your target audience and why you’re trying to reach them.  


I’m also a WSU grad. How did WSU prepare you for your career in communications?  


One of the things I love most about the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication is that you essentially get all the benefits of going to one of the best communication schools in the countrycombined with a killer vocational school. The tools and skills you walk away with are tangible and readily applicable no matter where you go – I equate it with learning to be a welder or an electrician.  My professors ranged from former executives at major PR agencies who understood client work, strategy, and creative thinking, to hardened journalists with decades of experience. Everyone has a favorite instructor, and mine is Roberta Kelly, whose Eagle-eye copywriting and editing classes are legendary. 

That hands-on experience really prepared me for my career in public relations, and I think there are many students in other disciplines or at other schools who don’t get that same experience. I have nothing but great things to say about the Murrow College.  


You started as an intern at F+A and now you’re a partner of the firm. How has that experience been?  


I started my internship with F+A six weeks after graduation, then worked for F+A for five years. Then I left the firm, had children and dove deep into other passions for a couple of years. At one point I was volunteering and studying to become a lactation consultant, which was personally very fulfilling and something I still support although I’m not involved in that world anymore.  

Sandwiched in these years, I moved with my husband to Europe, then with our kids to the East Coast and the Midwest where I also freelanced in PRworked for an agency that specialized in pharmaceutical communications, and ran communications for a healthcare technology research group.  

I’m so thankful that I was able to explore different priorities and let my path meander a bit – and I think the broader perspectives have enriched my capabilities as a communicatorI was also fortunate that various events and opportunities kept bringing me back to F+A and my mentor Mark FirmaniHe’s been an exceptional guide throughout my career, and I’ve often turned to him for counsel even during times I wasn’t working for the firm.  

When it came time to move back to Seattle, I had the opportunity to come back to F+A and step into a business partner role with Mark and our amazing partner Kristi Herriott.  


[Full disclosure: Mark’s married to Minerva Lead Goddess Joy Portella. We like him a lot.] 


What is it like having two business partners?  


It’s great! F+A has three partners responsible for client strategy and implementation: Mark, Kristi Herriot, and me. Mark is a long-time business owner and an unmatched communication professional, so I’m very thankful for the opportunity Kristi and I have to learn and run the business with him. Kristi is simply a pro, always articulate and in command. She’s a working mom too, so we really connect and depend on each other’s wisdom and support both at work and in family life.  

With Mark and Kristi, I couldn’t ask for a better combination of a mentor and peer to navigate the joys and challenges of running a PR firm. The three of us learn from each other on a regular basis – we’re very collaborative. One of the benefits of working for a mid-sized agency is the opportunity to be a leader and really drive the direction and strategy of the agency.  


What do you enjoy most about working at F+A?  


Honestly, I can’t imagine myself working for any other agency. I partner with clients across different sectors and that is immensely interesting to me. Not only do I get to work with and learn from people with brilliant minds, I get to jump from clients in behavioral healthcare to trial attorneys to heavy-duty mobile HVAC manufacturerWe designed the agency to work with clients who give us a seat at the table, and that makes all the difference 

It also doesn’t hurt that the Firmani team is so smart, respectful, and collaborative. And because we’re an integrated marketing and PR firm, we get to work across the full spectrum of communications disciplines – from influencer and media outreach to digital and social to event-based activities. Every day is an adventure. 


You’ve done work for our friends at Dignity Period. How did you get involved?  


During the time I was freelancing, I was living and working in St. Louis where Dignity Period’s USA operations are located. Minerva brought me on to be the boots on the ground. That was such a great experience for me, I hadn’t worked with many nonprofits before. It was wonderful to learn from Joy and Sara about how they helped Dignity Period scale from a startup non-profit to a larger organization.  


You’re on the Dignity Period board now. How has that experience been?  


I am consistently amazed and impressed by the founders, the other board members, and the individuals who contribute to Dignity Period’s mission. I love meeting people who are missiondriven and passionate about helping women.  


Can you give us a DP update? 


Dignity Period’s impact is growing exponentially – both internationally and here in the United States! Just last year, the organization distributed 66,000 reusable menstrual pad kits and educated 135,000 Ethiopian students about reproductive health. Their work drove a 24 percent decrease in school absences among girls, compared to boys. 

Additionally, one of our board members has done some of the only research available on the unmet menstrual hygiene needs of low-income women in the U.S.. Most people don’t know this, but these women encounter some of the same problems as girls in Ethiopia when it comes to menstrual healthlack of available supplies, cost, and no place for privacyDignity Period has started outreach to low-income women in the St. Louis area, and that has been an important evolution for the organization because sometimes an issue resonates more when people realize it’s happening at home, too.  


Tell us about your life outside F+A. 


Right now, I’m in the stage of my life where everything revolves around my work or my kids. I’m happily married to an amazing guy, we have a 4th grader and a 7th grader, and they keep me busy! We like to do a lot of activities together as a family. We’re taking the kids to Europe this summer, so the planning discussions are at a fever pitch around our house. My husband and I lived in Munich, Germany the first year we were married and we can’t wait to show our kids around.  


We hear you’re really into the Ellensburg Rodeo… what’s that about?  


You mean you’ve never been? I’m from Ellensburg, and it’s a rodeo town. My parents were both very involved in the rodeo growing up. My mom is a professional rodeo photographer and my dad volunteered as a community member and local business ownerIn 1997, I was crowned Ellensburg Rodeo Queen, which gave me an opportunity to serve as an ambassador for our community – a title that still makes me proud. It’s a great community event which draws people to Ellensburg from all over the world. If you’ve never been, come see us on Labor Day Weekend this year! 

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About The Author

Minerva Strategies

Minerva Strategies

The Minerva team has decades of experience working with nonprofits, foundations, and values-driven companies. Minerva also partners with experts—trusted designers, web developers, global communications professionals, and others—who share our excitement for creating positive social change. Through these partnerships, we can build a team that is tailored to your needs. Learn more about who we are or what we do.