Sarah Whyte is an account manager at Brent Council. She leads on the communications for public health, children and young people, and adult social care as well as being the editor of the council publication The Brent Magazine.
After a year at an agency after graduation, Sarah realised she preferred being embedded in an organisation and made the move in-house. Sarah spent four years working for the NHS encouraging people to donate blood, organs and stem cells, a cause she is still passionate about. A few more public sector comms roles followed before Sarah settled at Brent.
Sarah is trying to break down stereotypes about what black women don’t do and you can find her waxing lyrical about snowboarding, surfing and riding a motorbike – three of her hobbies where black woman are hugely under-represented in the UK.
Describe your background/yourself in 5 words max?
Jamaican heritage, North West Londoner
How did you get into PR/comms/creative?
I knew I wanted to get into PR from an early age. I loved reading magazines and writing but also wanted the creativity that advertising was known for. I thought PR would offer a nice mix of that so that’s what I studied at Uni.
What do you love about your job?
I love working on behaviour change campaigns and helping to change people’s views and habits.
Working in the public sector, a lot of the work I do has a direct impact on the way people live, work and play. I enjoy promoting initiatives that make people’s lives easier, provide them with opportunities or help them in the future. I also love working on targeted campaigns for specific communities, especially those that are underrepresented and often unheard.
What are you most proud of?
Getting back on the saddle! I passed my motorbike test 18 months ago and I had an accident on my first ride on my bike which resulted in a broken foot. Although I’m still a nervous rider, I’m glad that I got back on my bike as soon as I could and didn’t let fear overwhelm me. I’ve had some amazing times on my bike this year and I can’t wait to get out on it even more.
What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?
Not every win will be a big win. Sometimes you work really hard on a project and the result is not what you hoped it would be. But I’m learning to embrace the small wins as well as the big ones.
Who are your favourite people in PR and why?
She’s not in PR (she is a social media manager) but my friend and ex-colleague Melissa Thermidor is continuously doing amazing work promoting blood and organ donation within the black community.
At the start of her time with the NHS, she would rock the boat a bit and would often ask for forgiveness rather than permission. This helped change the way the organisation interacted with its fans on social media and she has helped grow channels immensely in the years she has been there. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Melissa’s work has made 100s of people become blood donors and join the organ donor register, which is an amazing achievement.
I’m also really in awe of all the work the ladies from Vamp have done in the past few years. The work they did to promote the Black Panther film in the UK was amazing and I’m not sure if black journalists from publications like Black Ballad would have had the opportunities they had to cover the film and interview the cast if Vamp weren’t so heavily involved in the promotion.
What skill do you think every PR/comms/creative has to nail?
I think being a good writer is key to working in PR. You need to be able to tailor your message to the right people and adapt it to use on the right platforms. Having a thick skin also helps.
What is your favourite social network and why?
Twitter! I love it. It inspires me, makes me laugh, makes me cry, connects me to people all over the world, provides me with news, endless memes and has given me opportunities as well. I spend more time than I am willing to admit on it.
Who is your favourite journalist and why?
I’m a Black Ballad founding member because I really believe in supporting black women and I think Tobi Oredein is an excellent journalist. Tobi has seen a gap in the market and has filled it by providing black women with a place to read about issues that relate to them while also paying black women for their words so that they feel valued.
Tobi’s editors letters are amazing and always resonate with me, which is why diversity in the industry is so important. Before the work of Black Ballad, gal-dem and Media Diversified I would often feel like the lived experiences of black women were hardly spoken about and often brushed aside. Now mainstream publications such as Stylist are catering to BAME voices more and it’s great to see.
I also really appreciate all the work Amelia Gentleman has done reporting on the Windrush scandal.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Introduce yourself to everyone and ensure that senior managers know who you are. Even if you are at the beginning of your career, having people know you and what projects you’ve worked on can often be the difference between you and a similarly experienced colleague getting a promotion. Visibility is key.
Best campaign of 2019 so far?
I really liked WWFs #10YearChallenge. Jumping on something which is trending on social media doesn’t always work but I think the stark contrasts between the before and after pictures made a really powerful statement.
Finally, on the D’ word… What can the sector do to encourage diversity?
Champion diverse voices at all times instead of having them be an afterthought. Don’t just think about diversity when trying to target diverse audiences, include them at all time so it becomes the norm. I’d like to see more black PR people on panels, in top 10 lists, providing commentary.
Don’t only include black people when talking about “black” issues. Although there are times when I think black people should definitely be included. After “Jerk Rice” gate, none of the people featured in a PR Week article about the issue were black. I thought one of the responses was actually quite patronising and it made me think about whether I would be happy to work for a company where an issue like this was dismissed so quickly. Companies need to show that they treat black people with respect and don’t dismiss their lived experiences as rubbish or nonsense. No one wants to be fighting micro aggressions at work every day.
Connect with Sarah on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Sarah is a mentee on the BME PR Pros/PRWeek Mentoring Scheme. She will be mentored by Addy Frederick, Senior Corporate Communications Manager, Bupa.