AbbVie comms queen rises

By Megan Brodie 3 years ago | In Companies, People
  • 3 years ago

5 May 2021

When Kate Richards first joined AbbVie to cover for a staff member on maternity leave, she could hardly have dreamed that five years later she would be in charge of the unit.

Yet this week Richards was named as the new Director of Corporate Communications and Patient Relations at AbbVie, one of the most senior communications jobs in the local industry and one that sees her reporting directly to the company’s ANZ General Manager, Chris Stemple.

While on the outside her rise from maternity leave cover to director appears meteoric, those familiar with Richards’ positive attitude and boundless energy would have expected nothing less. It’s the reason former director Elizabeth Rex first offered Richards a full-time position less than two months after she started, and why she was promoted to AbbVie’s Head of Communications the following year.

Yet the mother of two has not just managed this senior role for the past three years, she also chalked up a major career win as a founding co-chair of Medicines Australia’s diversity and inclusion group while also doing stints as a guest lecturer in communications at her former alma mater, the University of Technology in Sydney.

With the top communications job becoming vacant following the resignation of Lisa Maguire, who is pursuing personal goals, Richards paid tribute to both Maguire and Rex, saying the two women left a strong foundation that did not require significant change but would ultimately need some adjustments.

“We have to change to keep up with our external environment and what’s happening in the lives of our patients and the stakeholders that we work with,” she said. “We must continue to change and evolve. Change is everpresent and, in public affairs, change is more present than ever.

“So there absolutely will be change but not a complete departure from the strong foundation that has already been built.”

Covid had resulted in an environment “where the world has changed more rapidly than we’ve ever seen before” and where digital communication was more important, says Richards, adding organisations needed to be flexible not only in the way people worked but also in adapting to the changing communication needs of their stakeholders.

She said at AbbVie, the onboarding of Stemple at the beginning of Covid followed by the company’s merger with Allergan resulted in “an enormous amount of change as an organisation” but notes it also made the company much stronger.

“Supporting that change was absolutely something that I loved,” she says. “There will absolutely be change in our future in terms of communications and patient relations and my vision for the future is very much complementing the strong foundation that has already been built.”

Richards says AbbVie was already adept at using social media when Covid hit, putting it in good stead to manage its communications function throughout the pandemic.

“We already had a multichannel approach to our communication. That set us up for success in our ability to respond to the needs of our stakeholder. My vision for the future is to ensure we continue to respond to the needs of our patients in this new world that we find ourselves in.”

Other roles up for grabs – or taken

Down in Melbourne, Peta James has taken up the reins as GSK’s new Head of Government Affairs and Policy after six years as the national manager of public affairs and advocacy at the National Stroke Foundation.

“It’s a challenging and exciting time in health care, and GSK is at the forefront of innovation, evidence-based treatments and vaccines in Australia and globally,” James said.

GSK Head of Government Affairs and Policy Peta James

“I am passionate about the important role the patient voice plays in shaping healthcare and that is something I will aim to bring to my work at GSK. I am excited to be part of the team helping people do more, feel better and live longer.”

Pfizer policy and advocacy manager Kate Scott-Murphy has also made a move, switching to Novartis this week with the blessing of her former colleagues to join the latter as Public Affairs and Policy Lead, Oncology.

A former ministerial advisor in government and media advisor to the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists, Scott-Murphy excitedly took to social media to announce her move this week.

Janssen has not yet appointed its new Communications and Public Affairs Director following the sideways stepping of Todd Stephenson from the role, although the successful applicant is expected to be announced shortly.

And with Richards moving into the director role at AbbVie, a spot opens up in her team providing an opportunity for someone to work with AbbVie’s reigning communications queen.

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