Sarah Hall is a pioneer of best practice in the PR industry. The holder of the CIPR’s Sir Stephen Tallents Medal 2014 for exceptional achievement in public relations practice, she is a strong advocate of accountable leadership and women in business and believes in helping young talent break through.
Sarah is the CIPR’s President for 2018, a member of the Northern Power Women Power List, features in the PRWeek UK Power Book and is a regular speaker at industry events. She is one of Lissted’s top North East England digital influencers and her PR-related blog is one of the top ten in the UK according to Vuelio.
Sarah is proud to be on the Athena40 Global Committee, an initiative launched by the Global Thinkers Forum to discover and acknowledge the work of the 40 most dynamic, active and fearless female thought leaders, columnists, commentators and activists across all industries and from all over the world.
The founder and editor of #FuturePRoof, a series of books and community aimed at reasserting the role of public relations as a management function, Sarah co-edited a white paper with Ketchum Chief Engagement Officer Stephen Waddington characterising the public relations agency business and another exploring the mental wellbeing of the public relations profession.
She spearheaded and has led the CIPR’s gender policy work from 2014 onwards and this year launched a joint initiative between the CIPR, PRCA and Career Ready to improve social mobility within the industry.
Describe your background in 5 words max
North Eastern leftie lapsed Catholic.
How did you get into PR and/communications?
After graduating in French and Media at what’s now Leeds Trinity, I got a job in the regional affairs department at Tyne Tees Television. When the regional programming output started to drop I moved into PR agency life. I job hopped a little to get full service experience and was headhunted after winning CIPR Young Communicator of the Year. A gamechanger for me was getting my MA in marketing – hard going while working full time but this fundamentally changed my approach to consultancy as it made the link between organisational and comms objectives completely overt. I set my own agency up in 2009 and now employ a core team of ten.
What do you love about your job?
Asking really nosy questions about businesses and people until I’m totally up to speed, invested in the company and have wormed my way into everyone’s good books by demonstrating how PR can deliver strategic value. I also totally appreciate my team who help me live the CIPR and #FuturePRoof dream.
What are you most proud of?
Getting elected as CIPR President. I’m from a single parent family and I got a council grant to go to uni. Ultimately if an opinionated Geordie girl can do it, anyone with the smarts and willingness to get their hands dirty can.
What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?
The number of personal agendas out there. If you want to do business with me, please put the organisation’s needs first or the meeting won’t last long.
Who are your favourite people in PR/communications and why?
Sarah Stimson from the Taylor Bennett Foundation purely because she came to drinks on our houseboat and fell in the water, then burned some socks (no really) and managed to turn it into a relationship-building fundraising drive. Respect. Also <boyfriend conflict klaxon> Stephen Waddington mainly because when I need to quickly get up to speed with something I basically just mine his blog (like every other PR in the country judging by his visitor numbers).
What skill do you think every PR has to nail?
The pitch. Everything in life is a pitch. And then relationships. But most of all as you move up the career ladder, the ability to read a P&L.
What is your favourite social network and why?
Facebook because I keep it purely for family and friends and therefore say what I think and feel at any given point in time. My Twitter feed is much more sanitised.
Who is your favourite journalist and why?
Maja Pawinska Sims from Holmes Report for her smart and informed writing on complex topics although she’ll say it’s thanks to the people she interviews because she’s humble.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
You always have to quote your Mum here, right? It’s ‘nothing is carved in stone’, meaning you always have choices. It’s the perfect thing to hold onto when you feel at rock bottom, even if it means you have to make a difficult decision to move onwards and upwards.
What’s your ‘yay’ and ‘nay’ campaign of the year so far?
I love the campaign by Dominos in Texas where the pizza company has been fixing potholes because they can “cause irreversible damage to your pizza.” A brilliant example of social purpose linked to organisational objectives. The nay campaign has to be Doritos lady-friendly crisps. As someone who will happily fell a family pack in one sitting, I wasn’t appreciative of the suggestion that the fairer sex copes better with smaller servings which make less noise. They clearly don’t know women at all.
“PR agencies only talk about diversity to win big awards and look good. But it’s just tokenistic”. Discuss.
Ouch. How can we as an industry thrive and most of all be representative if our teams are not. Personally, I’m not one for awards but if they’re a catalyst for agencies to take a step in the right direction then that works for me.
What advice would you give a talented BME PR Pro starting to think this sector will never give them the opportunities they deserve and are close to jacking it in to retrain as a doctor (which would make their African parents very happy)?
Promote the insight you’re able to share. Having different perspectives on the team brings immeasurable benefits so remind everyone you speak to of this. Be honest about your challenges. The BME pros I work with have opened up my eyes via a few home truths. The employers who are genuinely committed to equal opportunities will be happy to engage on social media so relationship build.
Finally, on a lighter note… Gutted to hear you can’t make the BME PR Pros Summer Party…. Out of curiosity, what tune would have had you hitting the dancefloor?
I’m currently obsessed with The Man by The Killers. I defy anyone not to throw some shapes, even if they are a bit square.