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All Things Corporate Communications – With Anne Hammer

Communication is vital for most organizations to build their reputation. It is so crucial that companies invest in building a corporate communications team to oversee a wide range of communications activities. In this episode, Anne Hammer, the Head of Global External Communications for Manulife and the Chief Communications Officer for John Hancock, shares a deeper explanation of how you can build that reputation through an effective communications strategy. She also shares how you can strengthen your own communication skills. Be ready to navigate your career journey in corporate communications, and tune in to this episode NOW!

“Check out the full series of “Career Sessions, Career Lessons” podcasts here or visit A full written transcript of this episode is also available at

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All Things Corporate Communications – With Anne Hammer

My guest is Anne Hammer, who I met when we were both working at State Street. Anne is the Head of Global External Communications for Manulife and the Chief Communications Officer for John Hancock. She started her career in marketing and brand work before shifting to public relations and communications a little over a decade ago. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree from Suffolk University and also spent time as an undergraduate at Bryn Mawr, Oxford, and the Universidad de Salamanca. She lives in the Boston area and is married with a seven-month-old daughter.

Anne, welcome!

Thanks for having me.

I’m looking forward to catching up on the world of communications with you. Talk about your current role, and what you do for Manulife and the John Hancock division specifically.

I’ve been with the company for about five years. I serve as the Chief Communications Officer for John Hancock, which is one of four business lines across the global Manulife enterprise. In that capacity, I’m responsible for things like reputation management, media relations, executive visibility, and thought leadership, but also events and how we show up with our colleagues, both from a communications standpoint and an experience standpoint, so the full suite of communications and events for that business unit as part of Manulife’s entire enterprise.

I recently announced an expanded role of leading External Communications globally for all of Manulife. This is a dual hat for me and a great opportunity to scale what we’ve built within the John Hancock business for the global organization. In that capacity, I’m responsible for reputation management, media relations, executive visibility, thought leadership, and also financial communications.

Financial communications, so the IR [Investor Relations] kind of activity?

In partnership with [the IR function], the media relations.

You talk about dual hats. Is that unique to you or have they set up the comms function in a way where all of the division people have a second hat?

We’re a matrix organization so dual hats are increasingly becoming a way to leverage great talent and insights from across the organization to support not only the business needs but also align from an enterprise standpoint. More often, we’re seeing leaders at my level and above take those dual hats to better connect the dots across the company.

How big is your team that you manage directly and how is it structured?

For John Hancock, I have thirteen colleagues across the span of functions within my remit. At the global level, it’s more of a matrix model. I’ve got around thirteen folks who are hard-lined into me, but a wider population of more than twenty who come from other parts of the business, but are part of that community of external communicators that I’m responsible for.

That’s a big comms team.

It is. Communication is one of our biggest priorities now that we’re five years into our transformation as a company. Getting the story right about the transformation journey that we’ve been on is a priority for the board and the executive leadership team, so bringing that agenda to life is something that I’m excited about.

That’s probably a good segue into what you do day-to-day. What’s a typical day like for you? Are they ever typical?

One of the things I love the most about my job is that no day is typical, but every morning I wake up and I read the news. For any communications practitioner out there, they have to read the news every single morning because it’s our job to be as relevant as possible and a maven for relevancy within the organization. I spend a good chunk of my morning reading news from around the world, grounding myself in what’s happened from a market standpoint, but also from an opinion and perspective standpoint so that I can bring those insights into the organization as I counsel my partners.

A typical day for me is balancing team alignment. I spend a lot of time with my team talking to them and hearing what they’re working on. That’s to help drive empowerment and accountability. I help them get their work done without becoming a bottleneck. We have a fair amount of alignment meetings in various capacities. My job in those meetings is to help break down barriers that get in the way of good work getting done.

CSCL 37 | Corporate Communications

Anne Hammer on Corporate Communications: I help drive empowerment and accountability so help my team get their work done without becoming a bottleneck.


I spend a fair amount of time counseling my stakeholders throughout the organization. Whether that’s the executive leadership team across Manulife or smaller leadership teams from a business unit perspective, I spend a fair amount of time counseling them on how to approach offensive or defensive comms. There are project meetings as well to help drive those offensive and defensive comms.

The two areas where I’m most passionate from a day-to-day perspective are coaching and development. It’s making sure that my team has time with me to focus on improving their work, experience, and trajectory as practitioners in the organization, but then also time with journalists. It’s something that’s helped define my career in continuing to have that frontline connectivity with top media around the world so that I can understand what they’re focused on and how they can help us tell our story.

What drew you to PR and communications in the first place?

I’ve always had a passion for storytelling and literature. I went to college originally for Russian Literature and quickly realized that it’s hard to make a career out of that, but it’s a great passion. The fundamentals of it are that storytelling piece. A lot of those same principles that you bring to narrative construction, writing, and analyzing literature, you can bring to the communications function.

That passion for literature was the bedrock of my interest in communications, but then I also love how fast-paced PR is. I love that it’s a profession built on learning. You have to be a sponge to be good at PR. You have to be able to understand your role as a communications expert, not a subject matter expert, to be able to articulate that and instill trust in your partners. You may not be an expert in derivatives, but you’re here to help them tell that story concisely and in a compelling way, and then you have to dive into the material, fall in love with it, and enable other people to fall in love with it. That grounding and taking an academic approach to the work also drew me into the profession.

You work with a big company and a well-known firm. They’ve got a strategy. How do you go about linking what you’re doing from a communication strategy perspective to what the company is trying to do overall?

It’s a good time to ask me that question because I’m in the heart of it with Manulife right now. Even though I’ve been with the organization for five years, I’ve had my blinders on in a bit of a way by just focusing on John Hancock, and now the opportunity is building our PR strategy globally for the firm. How I’ve been approaching that is in a couple of different buckets. Whenever I help an organization modernize its PR team, which is a flavor of my career that has come to the forefront, I take a look at the people running it first.

I start with the team and evaluate four things: people, process, platforms, and partners. Who do you have on your team? Do they have the right capabilities for what you need them to do? What are our ways of working and are they effective? Are we able to prioritize? Are we able to connect the dots? Are the engines spinning in the right way as a team? For partners, how do we work with agencies, and are those the right agencies? Are we enabling them to do their best work? For platforms, both from a cost and a usage standpoint, what are the tools that we use and how do they work?

That’s a fair bit. Those basics from a PR standpoint are incredibly important. Establishing those fundamentals can take a little bit of time to stand up, but it’s an important first step. To answer your question about how you align a business strategy with a reputation management strategy, I start by asking a ton of questions. With whatever leadership team I’m working with, I do a fair amount of intake, not only with them but with the people around them, to do a prioritization exercise from a messaging standpoint.

Establishing those fundamentals can take a little time to stand up, but it's an essential first step. Click To Tweet

They tell me what’s important and then how near-term that need is. What I give back to them is a weighting of messaging weighted by complexity, priority, and relevance because there’s what we want to tell the market, but then there’s what the market will bear. My job is to translate that for a leadership team. I do that mapping exercise with a leadership team, but then I also do a risk appetite analysis with that leadership team. That’s both on an individual and an enterprise level. Not everybody wants to get out there and talk to journalists. Not every enterprise wants to be that risk-on and that’s okay.

I call it the creativity and control paradigm. Some organizations are going to be more controlled and some are going to be more creative. The market will drive some of that, but risk appetite internally drives a lot of that. It’s important for a leadership team to understand where on the spectrum they fall, both at the individual and at the enterprise level so that they understand where I need to push them as a spokesperson or as a leadership team to change the dynamics of how we build the strategy.

Stakeholder mapping and intake is an important part, and then finally, understanding what the market will bear. What do journalists think of the organization now? Do they have information or credibility gaps? How do we baseline that relationship so that we can then drive a targeted approach to improve or change the relationship to leverage it for future reputation outcomes? In those three buckets, those insights and conversations help me build a go-forward strategy grounded in capability, priority, and relevance.

You mentioned this creativity control paradigm. Where does Manulife fall on that, just out of curiosity, in terms of willingness to be out there in the market?

When I started five years ago, it was a lot more control and not a lot of creativity. One of the reasons why I stay at Manulife and why I love working there is that’s been changing. We’ve had significant transformation over the past five years from a leadership standpoint and business strategy standpoint. Along with a lot of other leaders across the firm, we’ve been moving that dial more into the creative side of it. That’s to drive different outcomes from a business standpoint, but also from a reputation standpoint. I’ve seen that paradigm shift. I would say that it’s pretty equal right now. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so excited for this new role to tap into that creativity opportunity.

CSCL 37 | Corporate Communications

Anne Hammer on Corporate Communications: Tap into that creativity opportunity.


When you get more latitude in your function, how does that then in turn enable the business in a way that maybe being more conservative and reserved constrains them?

It comes down to if you’re the biggest player in the market. We used to have this conversation at State Street. Why aren’t we referenced in every single article like BlackRock is? BlackRock’s got a different AUM than we do. They’re number one on the ranking tables. If they want to be a little bit more risk averse, their reputation can bear that because they do have that seat at that table and that number one position. People are going to write about them anyway.

If you’re not number one, you have to differentiate how you show up to the conversation. You need to introduce more risk into your reputation management. By risk, I mean creativity. Thinking differently about how you show up with executive visibility, thought leadership, public relations, and creative communications campaigns can help close the gap versus your competitors, but you have to be tolerant enough to accept that risk into the decision framework.

Fair enough. I also think about BlackRock in particular, since you mentioned them. Larry Fink, their CEO, has always been a strong voice in the market. It’s certainly amplified by the fact that they’re the biggest asset manager in the world, but he’s out there. I said once about Ron O’Hanley, who’s State Street’s CEO now, to his chief of staff at one point – this was probably after you left – I’m like, “Larry Fink has 750,000 followers on LinkedIn. Ron has 10,000. We’re never going to have that voice out there that he wants to have.” He has certainly been more vocal than Jay Hooley was who was his predecessor, It enables some different things. It enables State Street to be more of a voice on certain topics than it maybe had been able to be when Jay was running the company. He was more reserved in that respect.

It’s funny, Larry always gets brought up as the prime example of PR and thought leadership. Yes, it’s because they’re often number one, but it’s also because they spend a lot of time getting their communications approach right. It’s something that I’ve talked to a lot of different organizations about in articulating relevant perspectives.

There are all the things that you can do from a PR standpoint. I can get you a meeting with the top journalists. We can target the heck out of the Wall Street Journal, FT or Bloomberg. I can have all of the intelligence and insights about these relationships that I’m cultivating, but it doesn’t matter unless you have something interesting or relevant or action based to share with them, and that’s how news works.

Larry and his team have done a good job of articulating tension. This is where my love of narrative composition and communications serves me well as a communications practitioner when it comes to thought leadership. A narrative arc, and you learn this in any Lit 101, is identifying a situation, obstacle, action, and result. It’s how a story comes to life. Inherent in that situation, obstacle, action, and result is tension. It’s something to be overcome and resolved. The heroes help make that resolution happen. That SOAR framework is also the framework good communications practitioners bring to developing thought leadership, and it is certainly what BlackRock does.

If you can capture that perspective grounded in relevance and action as a leadership team, and you’re willing to go there to pick a little bit of a fight, then you can start having that game-changing reputation impact too. It’s difficult to get there. Even risk-on organizations have a hard time doing it. If you can capture that narrative structure from a thought leadership standpoint, it can start creating big reputation advantages.

If you can capture that narrative structure from a thought leadership standpoint, it can create significant reputation advantages. Click To Tweet

It definitely can. At the same time, they [Blackrock] become somewhat of a lightning rod for certain topics. ESG would be a great current example. They’ve got pension funds in red states that are pulling money from BlackRock because they don’t like how BlackRock is thinking about ESG. It does carry its risks. This is where your point about being risk-on is. You have to be aware of those risks.

You have to be aware of them and prepared for them. That’s where the fundamentals come back into play for me from a PR standpoint. You can’t be out there throwing your opinion around if you don’t have secure relationships with the journalists you’re throwing it around to. The reason why is you’re pulling on those relationships not only to get the coverage, but when things maybe start going wrong or you start facing criticism, you need to be able to call that journalist or those journalists and go on background, offer context, and give them the perspective to help shape the story. If you don’t have those relationships, you certainly won’t be able to do that. All the risk appetite in the world doesn’t matter if you don’t have solid fundamentals from a relationship-building standpoint.

There’s a part of this that’s more crisis-oriented. When you are working with a company that’s going through a crisis or some sort of negative news cycle, how do you think about what to do in those situations as a communications professional?

It comes down to trust, transparency, and timeliness. What are the facts? What are our values? What does each audience involved in this situation need or want? How can we be timely and transparent with them to facilitate trust? That’s internally and externally. Organizations get crisis communications wrong by relying on, “No comment.” There are a lot of reasons why a “no comment” works in the face of a bad situation, and if there are any legal professionals here, they will agree that “no comment” is the best. I love my colleagues in the legal profession and we work closely together, but it’s not always the right answer.

Sometimes being self-effacing is the right answer. Sometimes going on background is the right answer. Sometimes just listening is the right answer when it comes down to crises. I view my role in an organization with crisis communications as being the collective conscience of an organization and tying actions that we take in the face of crisis to our values.

Your framework is very helpful with trust, timeliness, and transparency. Often, too much time goes by or you only share part of the story, and those situations almost always seem like they come back and bite you.

The vacillation is what usually gets organizations. All of the risk oversight that we tend to have at large, complicated organizations is there for a good reason but has to be broken down in the moment of crisis to create a bias for action. The role of a good communications practitioner in those moments is to recognize the need for some risk oversight coming in from the legal team, but be able to drive an executive leadership team towards action and a decision in moments of crisis.

Turning to a different topic, you’ve been doing this long enough now that you’ve seen how social media has completely come into the center of how companies think about their communication strategy. From your experience, how has communications activity changed in the social media era?

My experience is largely in the B2B side of things. The answer is different from a B2C standpoint. In the B2B world where I live, I see social media as an employee engagement tool, first and foremost. It’s how you should be talking to your future and sometimes current and past employees to make sure they understand your strategy, advocate for your culture, and are connected to your leadership. Increasingly, we’re seeing external platforms like social media being a way to reach internal colleagues. That’s trend number one. We tend to view it more as an employee engagement technique and the way that it’s structured in our organization is part of a more internal focus.

That being said, from a B2C standpoint, it’s very different. That’s where your consumers are and that’s where they’re going to follow you. The roles of platforms, especially Instagram, are incredibly important, at least from a North American perspective, in terms of engaging your audience and understanding the value proposition you bring to the table. LinkedIn is where I play the most with my team because that’s where employee engagement, thought leadership, and PR come together in the B2B world. We have a lot of oversight and strategy for that, but less so on the more consumer-facing personalized channels.

Do you do much in the consumer space? John Hancock is an insurance brand that sells to individuals, but you have talked about being more B2B focused.

More than 95% of our business is driven through B2B relationships, through advisors and producers. Only a very small slice of our business is B2C.

You talked about the structure that you put around social media. A lot of companies have social media policies that guide what their employees should and shouldn’t say online. I would imagine you’ve been called in to adjudicate some of those situations. What’s your advice to people on how to keep themselves out of trouble in terms of their own social media accounts relative to their work life?

I’ll tell you what I do. I keep my Facebook and Instagram private. All I’m doing on there is blasting the world with pictures of my seven-month-old anyway, but I take the crossover out of it. I keep my professional social media presence strictly to LinkedIn. I would encourage any professional in our collective industries to do the same thing.

That being said, for leaders, it can be a little bit of a different game. When you have a profile and you’re leading large organizations, they may want to follow you on Instagram: your colleague base, current or prospective. The dynamic changes if you’re an official spokesperson of the firm where you work, but if you’re not, it’s best to keep them separate. Your organization likely has a media policy. It’s probably stricter than you think it is.

From a softer standpoint too, I’d say that employees hold their organizations up to a pretty high standard for reputation. When an external crisis hits, we worry most about how internal colleagues are going to view the reputation misstep. If colleagues are holding their firms to high reputation standards, you should hold yourself to a high reputation standard of how you’re performing and your activity on social media, because even if you’re not a representative of the firm, you are a representative of the firm by being a colleague.

You should hold yourself to a high reputation standard of how you perform and your social media activity. Click To Tweet

Especially on LinkedIn. Where your LinkedIn headline usually says, “I work for XYZ company,” it’s hard to completely separate yourself from that company when you post a comment.

One of the things that we’re trying to tap into is we don’t want to say, “JR, don’t go speak on this panel. Don’t go post this on LinkedIn.” If you’ve got something to say, we want to hear about it. One of the things that I’m trying to change internally is there will always be a level of oversight and a yes or a no that may need to happen from my team with bigger media opportunities, conferences, or even some LinkedIn content, but the relationships that each colleague has and their perspective is valuable to someone like me. Being able to harness that is something we’re trying to think about more strategically.

It would be interesting to see how that discussion plays out. A lot of companies are wrestling with how to harness it without it getting out of control.

Let’s talk a little bit about PR agencies. You mentioned partners in your four Ps framework. What do you think about your PR agencies? How do you want to work with them? What do you look for from them?

It’s always a balance. The couple of different teams that I’ve helped modernize have different agency equations at each of them. At Manulife, we have a huge Asia presence. Asia is an incredibly diversified region with multiple markets and multiple languages. You’re probably going to need a lot of different smaller agencies to help you get your work done and that’s okay.

Whereas the North American market and even the European market are more consolidated around language, but approach too. We tend to have fewer agencies on the North American side of things, and almost the same approach in Europe. Across the board with agencies, I like to think of it as the brain-to-arms and legs ratio. Your internal PR team is always going to be the brains of the operation because they sit closest to the business and theoretically have the deepest acumen. Your agencies are your arms and legs.

CSCL 37 | Corporate Communications

Anne Hammer on Corporate Communications: Your internal PR team will always be the brains of your PR outreach operation because they sit closest to the business and theoretically have the most profound insight.


Getting that balance right is important. You wouldn’t expect your ankle to do algebra. You need to set the team up for success by having the right folks on the inside of things, and the right folks on the agency side of things. An agency is only as effective as the internal PR team is in helping them connect the dots. When we take a look at agencies, we first take a look at the team itself and validate if we’ve got the right people overseeing the agency.

From an agency perspective, we’re taking a look at their conversion ratio. This is a metric that takes a look at, “How many relationships are you touching for our business on a regular standpoint? What are you doing with them?” Sometimes it could be just keeping the relationship alive and that’s okay, but when we call on you to convert those relationships, is it happening? Again, you are the arms and legs from an execution standpoint of our PR strategy, so conversion is an important metric. That’s one metric we bring to the table to assess quality. Across the board, agencies are an important part of how a PR team brings things together. It’s about the balance of the internal team versus the agency resources.

They can certainly help you. You talked about Asia with that local on-the-ground knowledge and network that are hard for any company to build at scale when they’re geographically distributed as Manulife is.

You’ll never have all the budget in the world to have a million PR people, at least not in the organizations where I’ve been. Agencies do help achieve that scale, but the effectiveness of that scale is dependent on those internal teams.

You talked also about people in your four Ps framework. You’ve clearly worked with a lot of senior leaders over the years as they’re playing some kind of role in executing a communications strategy or event. What do the best ones do well? On the flip side, where do you find that you have to most often coach them?

The most effective leader I’ve worked with from a communications standpoint for colleague communications specifically is Marianne Harrison, our CEO at John Hancock. She’s good at everything. The reason why she’s such an effective communicator is because she’s real. She’s very authentic and we’re able to match her communications tactics that we recommend with who she really is as a person. A good comms team is able to understand their leader’s voice and authentic self and match communications techniques that accomplish the objectives you have to accomplish, but in an authentic way for that leader.

Part of a leader’s effectiveness is an effective comms partner, but for a leader to be effective from a communication standpoint, they have to be authentic and real. They have to admit when they’re wrong. They have to be comfortable with admitting they don’t have all the information and focus more on showing up. I think about it a lot as a parent. The most important part about being a parent is showing up. The most important part of being a leader with a big team of colleagues is showing up. That would be my advice for internal communications.

For external communications, I would say that the leaders who get it right are the leaders who do three things. One is to remember that reputation is something you build. You would not expect a giant pension fund to sign on the dotted line after one cup of coffee. Why would the FT? The more that leaders recognize that relationships with journalists help produce those outcomes that you’re looking for from a PR standpoint, those are the ones who tend to do the best. You put the time in. Don’t show up to an interview four times a year tied to quarterly earnings and expect a reputation to be generated on the back of that.

Number one is understanding the power of building relationships with media. Number two is having a perspective. You’d be shocked at how many senior leaders don’t have a perspective, whether they haven’t sat down to think about it or they don’t know how to express it from a PR standpoint. Some leaders have a unique perspective to bring to the table. Others don’t express that. The more effective communicators are the ones who have a big perspective and can work with their PR teams to refine that perspective into action-grounded communications. My third piece of advice for leaders who want to be good communicators, both internally and externally, is for the love of God to read the briefing books that their communications teams spend forever on.

I’m laughing because I’m sure that doesn’t happen nearly as much as you would like it to happen. And practice – there’s probably a corollary thing in there to prep and practice.

With prep and practice, if you’re practicing in front of a mirror, you’ll never be an effective communicator. Being a communicator means being able to have dialogue and being able to be light and pivot with your message. It’s not just about standing and delivering. I practice a lot from a communications standpoint because I often have to be the voice of the organization.

My husband knows my material inside and out leading up to a presentation because I run it through him. I have a huge advantage because he’s in sales. He similarly has talk tracks that he has to practice on me, but that feedback is important to be a strong communicator and able to jump around a conversation instead of plowing straight through it.

More generally, what advice would you give to people on how to strengthen their communication skills? It’s something that’s so foundational to pretty much everything you do in life and certainly in your professional life.

Strengthening your communication skills requires you to assess your inputs and outputs. Your input is just as important. I spent a lot of time writing during my college career and I thought maybe that was going to be what my chosen profession would end up being. To be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. It’s because those ideas that you’re reading and those narratives that you’re interpreting help you rethink how you frame things.

If you want to be a solid communicator internally with your people or externally with media, I’d say read, read, read. Read the news, read any given book that’s popular in your industry, read what your leadership team is reading, and read what your team is reading. It’s also listening. The best communicators are the ones that make time for their team. Marianne is another great example of this. You can see her out there talking to almost everybody on the floor on a regular basis. She’s got a strong grasp on what’s important to them. That helps her and us as her communications partners ground her communications in relevancy because she’s got her fingers on the pulse of what her audience needs.

It is a huge strength as a communicator to be able to pair it with empathy. That’s ultimately what you’re describing.

I fell in love with our former colleague’s work, Suzanne Duncan from the Center for Applied Research at State Street. She brought those psychological principles to how we understand the world of finance. A lot of that was empathy based too. Empathy as a core skill is important from an interpersonal standpoint, but from a professional standpoint, and very clearly from a communications perspective as well, in being able to understand what people need and why, what their drivers are, and how you can access them in a conversation.

Empathy as a core skill is vital from an interpersonal standpoint, but definitely from a professional standpoint and very clearly from a communications perspective. Click To Tweet

Let’s go back to the early Anne days. What did you envision yourself doing when you were growing up in New Jersey, contemplating going off to study Russian Literature at Bryn Mawr? Did you envision yourself being a writer, a professor or something else at that point?

There were two things that I wanted to be when I grew up. One was a 60 Minutes anchor, and one was a National Geographic photographer. Both of those things are about telling stories. One through sharing stories and talking about them, and one through images. I still am holding out hope for the 60 Minutes call. Based on the average age of their anchors, I still think I’m in the running.

You’ve got decades left.

Whenever Lesley Stahl is out, I’m in. That set a foundation for my love of communications and literature. I certainly didn’t think that I was going to be able to convert my Russian Literature love into a profession. That was a truth I had to face in my early college career, that what I was loving, researching, and understanding wasn’t going to create a career for me. I had to take a step back and think about what would. That’s what drove me towards communications and marketing as an opportunity set.

CSCL 37 | Corporate Communications

Anne Hammer on Corporate Communications: Researching and understanding weren’t going to create a career for me. So I had to take a step back and think about communications and marketing as an opportunity set.


You transferred too. You end up finishing your bachelor’s at Suffolk, right?

I did the long version of college. I started out at Bryn Mawr and did some study abroad. I loved Bryn Mawr. I was getting great grades studying Russian Literature and was having a great time, but it didn’t feel like the right path for me. Something was missing. I was looking at myself and saying, “What are you going to be doing with this in 7 or 10 years?” I couldn’t answer that for myself.

I took time off of school and moved to North Carolina. I struggled for a few years, to be perfectly blunt about it. I was in sales. I had odd jobs and was struggling to make ends meet. I don’t think a lot of people share those early struggles in their careers as often as they should, or share their educational experience. It was foundational for me to be out there and not doing well, and being worried about where my next paycheck was coming from.

It gave me a dose of reality that I didn’t have, coming from a privileged upper-middle-class upbringing in Northern New Jersey. The experience of not winning and not succeeding helped establish and cement the persistence and grit that I bring to my profession and career now. That experience showed me that I needed to go back to school.

When I went back to school, I didn’t go back to Liberal Arts. I went to Suffolk because they have a great law program. I wanted to finish my undergrad and get into their law school. That didn’t end up happening, because my PR career took off, but that was the game plan: why I made that shift, why I ended up in Boston, and ultimately, how I ended up where I ended with State Street and working with you. It was that pivot that I had to make in the middle of my college career to understand how my career would take shape.

Fast forward back to now. You’re at the heart of your career. You have decades to go before you’re age appropriate to be a 60 Minutes anchor. How are you thinking about how you manage your career now? Would you describe yourself as being super intentional about it or more opportunistic?

I’m a very intentional person. I think a lot about what experiences I’m having and how I can tap into different ones. A lot of that is project-based. Manulife is good at that. They’re great at taking someone who’s good at one thing and signing them up for a project. I helped run a strategic cost management initiative a few years ago. It required prioritization, ruthless focus on execution, and project management skills, which I have in spades, but not necessarily for a strategic cost management exercise. The opportunity to do that gave me a whole new set of experiences to bring into my career development.

I look for opportunities like that. I’m at a great organization that helps to match me to opportunities like that. Regarding your question about if I’m intentional about it or if it’s more organic, I’d say that everyone’s career is 50% luck and 50% intention. On the luck piece, there are two elements of that. One, recognizing your privilege. Growing up in an upper-middle-class house and going to a school like Bryn Mawr, being able to fail with a safety net, and then getting back into school, that’s a privilege. Being a White woman versus a woman of color trying to do what I’m doing, that’s a privilege. The opportunities that have come my way because of that foundation, that’s a privilege.

Recognizing that privilege and making sure you’re paying it forward to people that don’t have it is important. The other piece of the opportunity that comes your way is you need to be aware and look around you and at the trends that are impacting your experience, and ask yourself why you’re seeing what you’re seeing or why opportunities are or aren’t landing in your lap.

That awareness about the opportunity set coming your way is important because the other 50% of your career is what you do with your luck, and how you capture it, action it, create a career development plan and set that intention. I would say 50% of it is luck. You have to keep your eyes open, and then make a plan with what you get.

You’re in a profession that can be 24/7 at times. You have a seven-month-old at home. How do you manage your pace, energy, and resilience levels?

My husband can probably overhear me, so thank you, Brian, for being a fabulous partner and making it easy to have a family and a career. I’m lucky in that regard. In terms of pace and balance, the pace is important, because another word for pace is momentum. You have to be able as a leader to set a pace and capture momentum with your team while also giving them a moment to breathe. Pace is something that we look at a lot across my team. It does ebb and flow.

What I encourage my team to do is be flexible with themselves. One of the gifts of the pandemic is a more flexible work schedule. It certainly helps a communications practitioner because there are some days when we’re working from 7:00 AM to midnight. There are other days when it’s lighter. On the days when it’s lighter, it’s okay to take a walk. It’s okay to take a longer lunch break. It’s okay to go get some baby cuddles in between meetings.

Taking those opportunities and seizing them in the moments that aren’t quite as busy is important for a communications practitioner because our world isn’t planned. Being able to be self-directed in your balance is something that even the most junior of practitioners needs to master pretty early on, given the nature of the flow of the job.

Last question, what career advice you would offer to our audience?

The career advice I would offer your audience, my younger self, and my kids is that, at organizations like the ones that you and I work at, you are a steward. You don’t own anything. The faster you can get there, and the faster you stop worrying about things that don’t matter like reporting lines and titles, then the impact that you make at an organization can be leaving it better than you found it. That’s your role as a steward. Even from the most junior roles and certainly to the most senior of roles, taking that stewardship lens when working at big organizations like ours, that’s my biggest piece of career advice.

That’s excellent advice. We’ll stop there. We could have covered many other topics, but I appreciate getting some time with you. It was nice to catch up. It’s been a while.

It has. It’s so good to chat with you, J.R.

Thanks again, Anne. We’ll talk again soon.

I would like to thank Anne for joining me and diving into the world of corporate communications and how she navigated her own career journey. If you’re ready to take control of your career, visit If you’d like more regular career insights, become a PathWise Member, basic membership is free. You can also sign up on the website for the PathWise newsletter and follow PathWise on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Thanks. Have a great day.


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About Anne Hammer

CSCL 37 | Corporate CommunicationsAnne Hammer is the Head of Global External Communications for Manulife and the Chief Communications Officer for John Hancock. She started her career in marketing and brand work before shifting into public relations and communications a little over a decade ago.

Anne earned her Bachelors’ degree from Suffolk University and also spent time as an undergraduate at Bryn Mawr, Oxford, and the Universidad de Salamanca. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and 7-month old daughter.




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