By Adrian Hedden
Annessa Carlisle wakes up every morning with only one iron-clad goal: to write.
Newly appointed this year as the executive director of Public Relations and Marketing at Washtenaw Community College, the Dearborn native has never struggled to craft her daily dose of words.
“Once I decided to be a writer, I never changed my direction,” Carlisle said. “My goal was always to be a print journalist, a newspaper writer.”
The college hopes she will revitalize WCC’s Marketing Department.
“I’m completely pleased and excited,” said Wendy Lawson, vice president of Advancement who served as interim director of marketing while the position was left vacant. “She comes to us with huge experience. She has worked in environments with very high pressure.”
Carlisle was one of six candidates to interview for the position, Lawson said.
“It was very competitive, but the committee agreed,” Lawson said. “She had the skills we needed and hit the ground running. She has done a great job getting to know the college and its players.”
Replacing former Director of Public Relations and Marketing Catherine Smillie, Carlisle is looked on by officials as a rejuvenating push to expand the scope of the school’s marketing initiatives online and through mobile technology.
“They’re very different (Smillie and Carlisle),” Lawson said. Catherine had about 30 years of experience, very seasoned. Annessa knows the technology and understands social media. It’s a fresh look.”
Lawson has already begun to witness Carlisle taking a leadership role in the Marketing Department as planning initiatives have begun moving to the Web. Carlisle has experience in developing and maintaining websites as she did during her tenure at the Detroit Medical Center.
“Instead of faculty, you have doctors. Instead of students, you have patients,” Carlisle said. “The foundation of communication is the same. We were selling knee replacements, not credit hours, but the pace was very much the same.”
Carlisle worked at the DMC, successfully creating campaigns that appealed to a wide audience served by the hospitals. Renee Shimmel, a co-worker and director at the Sinai Grace Hospital in Detroit, was impressed with Carlisle’s determination and her way with words.
“When it comes to marketing writing, there has to be that creativity – that spark,” Shimmel said. She had that interest. She was very successful and a great colleague. The college is really lucky. Absolutely, we will miss her.”
Carlisle was born in 1968 and raised in Royal Oak in what she describes as a normal, middle class upbringing. Her mother is a nurse, while her father owned various printing companies over the years.
“It didn’t really influence my choices,” Carlisle said. “But it helped having that knowledge.”
After studying journalism in high school, Carlisle was the first student at Kimball High School, now known as Royal Oak High, to be offered a co-operative position at a local paper at the time, The Daily Tribune.
“It was great getting to know the industry,” Carlisle said. “It really solidified what I wanted.”
After graduating from high school in 1986, Carlisle went on to Wayne State University to study journalism and graduated with her bachelor’s degree. During college, Carlisle said, she did freelance work for as many local papers as she could find.
Finding employment in 1990, right after college, for the Tech Center News of the metro-Detroit area as an automotive reporter, Carlisle eventually found that her goal for daily, literary bliss was being threatened by an evolving industry.
“I knew I wanted to keep writing,” Carlisle said. “But the industry was changing.”
In 1993, Carlisle took a position at Oakland County Community College as the coordinator of communications. She earned a master’s degree in marketing from Michigan State University in 1995, and continued working part-time when she began having children.
Carlisle has continued to consult the marketing department at OCC for the past 17 years.
Her fist son, Austin, was born in 1995 and his younger brother Bryce came by in 1997. Austin is a senior in high school and looking to be recruited into Division I fencing, the same sport his mother played in college.
As Carlisle’s family began to stabilize, she began taking on more and more responsibility at OCC, consulting the Marketing Department and teaching marketing classes.
“I found that I could still be creative in marketing, still write every day,” Carlisle said. “That (OCC) was really where I fell in love with community colleges. It really gave me the knowledge and the feel of community colleges.”
In 2005, Momentum Books, an affiliate of magazine Hour Detroit, published Carlisle’s first book, “Bob-lo: An Island in Troubled Waters.”
Carlisle describes the book as creative non-fiction as it tells the tale of Detroit’s Bob-Lo Island, a popular tourist location and small island community whose inhabitants were ruthlessly bought out of their homes by land developers.
After going on several regional tours, Carlisle describes the book as her greatest personal achievement of her career despite the editing process, which she said was the hardest part of putting out the book.
“To be a published author and to tell her story, it became very personal,” Carlisle said. “It was a tough process, but it was OK, we got it out. Every journalist wants to write a book.”
Carlisle’s goals at WCC are to drive the school’s advertising campaign into second gear, she said, and to increase the school’s presence online and, on mobile technology, into the digital age.
“Part of my priorities is where we go from here,” Carlisle said. “We need to continue – and continue communicating.”