Storytime with Annabel Adams, UCLA Law’s new assistant dean of communications

March 23, 2023
Josh Rich
Annabel Adams (Photo credit: Sabrina Chang)
Photo credit: Sabrina Chang

“UCLA School of Law is a storyteller’s dream,” says Annabel Adams, who joined the law school in 2022 as assistant dean of communications. “It’s not just that we have a treasure trove of stories waiting to be told, it’s also the caliber of impact we can speak to.”

That caliber of impact certainly extends to UCLA Law’s Office of Communications, which, in a matter of months, Adams has grown to include staff with a full set of the talents and tools that are necessary to elevate the law school’s storytelling operations.

Adams comes to UCLA Law from UC Irvine’s School of Humanities, where she led marketing and communications for eight years by building on her wealth of experience – working for start-ups, a law firm and so on – that, she says, has “primed me for this moment.”

Here, she talks about her vision for communications at UCLA Law, the law faculty books that she is reading … and her secret talent.

What are you most excited about doing as the head of communications at UCLA Law?

I’m excited about so much. I work with an incredible team, and I’m excited to continue to foster their growth. I want us to produce the best storytelling of our lives. There is no better place than here and no better time than now. I’m excited and heartened by the impact my team and I have made in just the past six months. We’re focusing not only on what stories we tell, but also on how and where we tell them. We’re incorporating more multimedia into our storytelling and prioritizing social media – meeting our audiences where they are. We’re fostering a culture of innovation where we try new things and approach storytelling with a bravery and entrepreneurial spirit that matches who we are as an institution. We’re already seeing the results of this approach: We’ve had our first viral Instagram post, and Professor Adam Winkler recently became the first professor from across the entire UCLA campus to host a Reddit Ask Me Anything. And there’s so much more to come.

What are you most proud of accomplishing before you joined us here?

There has been a lot in the media recently about the national decline of humanities majors. But at UCI’s School of Humanities, we were able to tell a different story. Our majors stayed consistent and then grew over the span of my tenure, with some majors increasing in the hundreds of percent. As an English major, and UCI alumna, this work will always hold a very special place in my heart.

How do you craft an effective communications strategy in this era?

Knowing your audience and your goals are the first steps. At the law school, our key audiences include existing and prospective students. Where do they spend a lot of their time? Social media. So, we need to be there. But building a communications strategy takes time, and the most important piece of the puzzle is to listen and learn first. I’ve been doing a lot of listening and learning and that will be an ongoing part of my strategy.

What are the biggest challenges to accomplishing this?

Time and bandwidth! We’re a small but mighty team. The antidote to the challenge of “there’s just too much to do” is deep intentionality about how we spend our time and adapting as the opportunities and challenges do.

That’s great. Now for the big question: Oxford comma or no Oxford comma?

I’m pro Oxford comma, but I adhere to AP style, which as of now – why?! – is still against it.

Totally agree with you, but we may not win that battle for a while. In the meantime, would you share your favorite thing about being a storyteller?

Just one thing? That’s tough. I think there’s a great responsibility we have as storytellers not just to tell stories that open hearts and minds, but also to simply pass the mic for others to tell their own stories.

Speaking of stories, do you have any good sagas to tell us about your commute from Long Beach? What do you do to pass the time?

It’s been a great lesson in making peace with what you can’t change. Once I just accepted that I will never find a secret window where traffic is light – at least other than at 2 a.m.! – I leaned into making the best of it. My favorite podcasts are Terrible, Thanks for Asking; Code Switch; Brown Ambition; This American Life; and Repast, a podcast led by UCLA Law’s Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy. I’ve also been known to spend my traffic time belting along to Mariah Carey and Celine Dion.

What books are on your nightstand?

I’m obsessed with science writing, so, naturally, The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2022 is there. Though I’ve finished it, I couldn’t remove Erika Hayasaki’s Somewhere Sisters. Anyone who wants to learn to tell better stories can learn from no one better than a literary journalist like her. I also have three UCLA Law professors’ latest books in different stages of progress: Devon Carbado’s Unreasonable, Russell Korobkin’s The Five Tool Negotiator and Joanna Schwartz’s Shielded.

Great choices! Finally, so … we were surfing SoundCloud the other day, as we tend to do, and we came upon some music by a performer who sounded awfully familiar. Care to explain?

Many moons ago, I was the lead singer in an indie electronica band called the Antique Toys. We met through Craigslist. My audition to join the band as their singer was to improvise lyrics and melody to a track. I went into the sound booth and got lost in the best way. Improvising is one of my favorite ways to sing – I’ll lose myself in a state of flow. I was also a featured singer on a few tracks with Pristina – my favorite being our cover of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “The Killing Jar,” which was mastered at Abbey Road Studios.

Dare I risk being a broken record? Singing is also storytelling. It always comes back to storytelling!

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