For more than five years Jane Gentle was Communications Manager and spokesperson at Mumsnet, the UK’s biggest site for parents. She was previously a Publicity Manager at Penguin Books, generating PR campaigns for bestselling authors like Jamie Oliver, and an Account Director at Colman Getty, where she worked with Waterstone’s, and Arts Council England on their campaign to promote diversity in the arts. In April 2018 Jane returned to Penguin as Senior Campaigns Manager.
Describe your background in 5 words max?
British-Ghanaian communicator. Loves words.
How did you get into PR/comms?
After a post-uni year working in New York City, I came home and applied for jobs in publishing. I landed a dream job for a bookworm – PA to the then Head of Publicity and Corporate Comms at Penguin Books, and I went on to work in publicity there for five years.
What do you love about your job?
There’s nothing like seeing a PR story through: idea, execution, coverage and then the impact of that coverage. I also love to be able to expect the unexpected, every day.
What are you most proud of?
I’m really proud that my daughters know they’ve got a mum who appears on TV. I’ve been interviewed for Mumsnet, live on BBC News, ITV Lunchtime News, plus BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and BBC Radio 2’s Chris Evans Breakfast Show. I think it’s important for girls from BME backgrounds to see that someone like them can do a job like that – when I was growing up, most of the faces on TV were white.
The single piece of coverage I’m most proud of is Black power: history’s greatest black achievers, an idea I pitched to The Independent to mark the launch of the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool. I sold in the angle that the museum had pulled together a wall of 70 great black achievers, and that they could invite their readers to suggest who had been left out. The piece ended up as an 11-page cover story in their weekend supplement.
What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?
I think once you’ve learnt to embrace the unexpected, it’s a lot easier to put your carefully crafted plans aside, and to be agile about how you adapt when the agenda changes.
Who are your favourite people in PR/comms and why?
I have great admiration for Preena Gadher and Anwen Hooson, co-founders of Riot PR, because they had the tenacity to start their own agency in their twenties, and the talent to grow it into a total powerhouse.
What is your favourite social network and why?
Twitter – it’s where I get my news, and it makes me laugh.
Who is your favourite journalist and why?
I re-read AA Gill’s final column the other day – it’s really stayed with me. I also loved Janice Turner’s interview with the CEO of Netflix, and often recommend it as a great read. And I’m reading Tina Brown’s diaries – what a career! I do love a media memoir.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
If you feel awkward about something you’ve put in a press release (or have been asked to add by someone else) , trust your instincts and take it out – you’re probably right.
Your favourite PR campaign/stunt of 2018 so far?
I think Greggs played Valentine’s Day well – their candlelit evening meal offer stood out.
Why did you apply for the BME PR Pros/PRWeek Mentoring Scheme? And what was your reaction when you found out you got a place?
I learn every day. I’ve never had a mentor, and I think I have everything to gain from being matched with someone else with different experiences to share. I’m really looking forward to working with Nana, and I know there were hundreds of applicants, so I’m very happy to have been picked.
Finally, on the D’ word… What can the sector do to encourage diversity?
Part of the reason I’m participating in this programme is that visibility is so important – there’s a reason we hear “you can’t be what you can’t see” so often. Diversity in the media and on social media can help to encourage diversity behind the scenes too.
Jane is a mentee on the BME PR Pros/PRWeek Mentoring Scheme. She will be mentored by Nana Anto-Awuakye, Head of World News, Cafod.