Combining full-time study with a part-time role as a junior publicist at the Sydney Writers’ Festival was always going to be challenging. Fortunately, third-year student Claire Keenan had the foundational skills to build on and a welcoming team to work with.

Dominique Pendleton: Why did you choose work experience with the Sydney Writers' Festival?

Claire Keenan: From day one, we were told by UNSW Journalism lecturers that to secure a job in the media, we needed industry experience – and lots of it.

Two busy years went by with offers for internships that would most likely consist of coffee runs and Instagram flagging. I knew I wanted my work experience to be engaging and fulfilling.

The Sydney Writers’ Festival was a massive annual event that attracted writers, journalists and public figures from Australia and all over the world. It covered all things I love: literature, creativity, politics and popular culture. It ticked all the boxes in terms of internship dreams.

I also chose the Writers’ Festival because I knew I would be a part of a team of creative, dedicated and brilliant staff members who work extremely hard over an intense period to curate a literary experience for the public. I was eager to be a part of something that had an end result and that others could enjoy.

DP: Have you been to a Sydney Writers’ Festival before?

CK: As crazy as this sounds, I haven’t. I’ve spent most of my life in Griffith, outside of Sydney. I think that’s why this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival is such a big deal for me. Not only is it an achievement in regard to my university degree and experience for my future career, but it made me feel connected to something in Sydney that I can attend and be a part of, without distance getting in the way.  

DP: What have you learnt about being a publicist?

CK: Patience, organisation and confidence are key. Also, public holidays are the worst for emails.

I started the job with no experience as a publicist, let alone for Australia’s largest literary event. However, I learnt quickly that I had to diligently ask questions, and that this was definitely a ‘learn as you go’ type job.

I picked up the skill of efficient emailing, which sounds bland but funnily it is crucial to my future in media. I worked part-time and was at the office twice a week, and I was in constant contact with 35 rural partners and external local media outlets.

My major role was writing and editing press releases and sending them out to local newspapers and radio stations, to coordinate interviews with the artistic director. I learnt the protocols of interview bookings and refined my skills in writing and editing professional media releases.

DP: What are your career plans after you graduate?

CK: Honestly, I would say I want to write – definitely in journalism and maybe one day fiction. I would love to write opinion pieces and feature articles for a newspaper or magazine, but the end goal is unforeseeable right now. What I do know is that I have a strong passion for writing around the themes of feminism, the arts, other cultural issues, politics to some degree and opinion pieces from my unique country perspective.

I am aware that to survive in media, I need to be adaptable and willing to take on new challenges.

Working at another Sydney Writers’ Festival is a definite must for me. And who knows? Maybe one day, I will even be asked to speak at it.

DP: How have your courses prepared you for work experience?

CK: My Media courses have definitely instilled confidence in me and taught me how to communicate correctly in the media sphere. Specific courses taught me the skill of writing a media/press release which was crucial to my role as a publicist.

Also, my studies on media companies in Australia, such as the ABC, prepared me to communicate with journalists and radio hosts/announcers.

DP: Were there any challenges or things you didn’t expect about working at the Festival?

CK: The biggest challenge was probably time management. I am grateful for how the internship taught me to be patient and not to be too hard on myself about not committing to absolutely everything. I did as much work as I could do and focused more on the quality, rather than quantity.

I didn’t expect to be so involved in the overall running and lead-up to the festival. Also, I didn’t expect my co-workers to be so welcoming and wonderful. Here I was, another intern with no expertise and experience. But every morning that I ventured to the office, I was excited walking through The Rocks, ready for another day on the job. I will be forever in debt to the team for making my first workplace experience so wonderful.

UNSW Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences is a Major Partner of the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

Find out more about Arts & Social Sciences Work Integrated Learning.

Dominique Pendleton