Whitney will be joining Missive, a London-based independent communications & PR consultancy that specialises in technology, as an Account Director in November 2021.
She is currently a Senior Account Manager at Gallium Ventures, a boutique PR & Marketing agency based in London, where she works with various B2B/B2C tech brands that span across venture capital, fintech, and cybersecurity. She originally started her career in Boston, working at a consumer PR agency before moving to San Francisco where she was introduced to the world of tech PR. Two years ago, Whitney made the move across the pond where she has continued to build her knowledge and expertise in the European tech scene.
Whitney is incredibly passionate about telling stories of how technology can be used to create a more equitable world. Over the course of her career, she has worked with various non-profits and social enterprises focussed on getting more people from underrepresented backgrounds into the tech sector, including Out & Equal, Code2040, Black Girls Code, and Nex Cubed.
When she’s not working, Whitney spends her time mentoring with organisations aimed at empowering those from underrepresented backgrounds, including TERN (The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network), a social enterprise supporting refugee entrepreneurs in the creation and development of their businesses, and OUT in Tech, the world’s largest non-profit community of LGBTQ+ tech leaders.
Describe yourself/your background in 5 words max?
American staying dry in London
How did you get into PR/communications?
I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but it was ‘Sex and the City’ that originally planted the PR/communications seed. I absolutely loved the character of Samantha Jones (controversial in light of the upcoming reboot…), a public relations executive who was running her own firm, and I wanted to do the same thing – get paid to talk to people and go to really cool media events! Although the world of tech PR can be a somewhat less glamorous affair, I’ve been able to work with some really incredible clients throughout my career. And the events haven’t been half bad either.
What do you love about your job?
I love being able to work with companies and brands that are out there REALLY trying to make a positive impact on the world and helping them tell their stories. Whether it’s an organisation developing renewable and sustainable projects or an accelerator working to support and empower Black and Brown founders from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), it’s working with the media to tell these stories that truly gets me excited – even if my family and friends still have no idea what exactly it is that I do. Sigh.
What are you most proud of?
In an effort to do my part during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement last summer, I hosted a virtual open mic fundraiser for Campaign Zero, which aims to reduce police violence, as well as a campaign to support the family of Adama Traore, a French black man killed by police in 2016 whose family is still fighting for justice.
Despite the stress and anxiety of pulling together a virtual event during a pandemic, it turned out beautifully. I (with the support of my friends and family) was able to secure an incredible lineup of performers, figured out how to livestream, and hosted my first-ever event. In the end, we raised over £2700 and had almost 90 attendees from across the UK, US and France join in for a beautiful night of healing, solidarity, and raising awareness against police brutality and systemic racism.
What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?
“Sometimes you have to let go of things that no longer serve you, even if it means you have to step out of your comfort zone.”
Over the past couple years, I’d become accustomed to having certain friends, jobs and even family members mentally and emotionally drain me – just accepting it as the way things were. It was only when the pandemic hit did I start to realise how important it was for me to prioritise my happiness and mental health, even if it meant making tough decisions (i.e. leaving a job) or having difficult conversations (i.e. ending a long-term friendship). Although it was a difficult lesson to learn, I’m so much better off now because of it.
Who are your favourite people in PR and why?
Although he probably doesn’t know this, my favourite person in PR has to be my friend Jamil Walker, a Business & Consumer Communication Manager at Facebook. I met him when I was living in San Francisco and was immediately struck by how unapologetically Black and queer he was – despite working in an industry that was (and still is) overwhelmingly white and straight.
It was the first time in my career that I had met another Black and queer person in comms and it made me feel so validated. Since then, it’s been amazing to see the incredible work that Jamil is doing while always being 100% authentic to himself. In the words of Issa Rae, “I’m rooting for everybody black”.
What skill do you think every PR/comms person has to nail?
I think that attention to detail is one of the most important things to nail down. Although our jobs are somewhat “behind the scenes”, the work that we do is very much front and centre. Whether it’s a press release, email to the client, or even just getting the logistics for a press briefing nailed down, attention to detail is crucial. I remember when I first started out in PR, I accidentally sent a mass email to a spreadsheet of journalists with the dreaded “Hi XX” because I didn’t double check the distribution details. Let’s just say after that mistake 1. I never sent a mass email again and 2. I always double and triple check my emails before sending them out.
What is your favourite social network and why?
I have a love/hate relationship with Instagram. I love the fact that I can find yummy recipes, hilarious videos, and inspirational content on there, but hate how triggering it can be with all the “Insta Models”, diet ads, and performative activism. Over the past couple of months, I’ve tried to stop following pages that trigger me and only follow pages that inspire and empower me.
What’s your favourite podcast and why?
This might be a controversial opinion but I don’t actually listen to podcasts… Listening to people talk for long periods of time either irritates me or puts me to sleep. But for the sake of fulfilling the assignment: I don’t hate listening to the French learning podcasts on Duolingo!
Who is your favourite journalist and why?
I absolutely love Natalie Morris, the deputy lifestyle editor at Metro UK. Her articles about Black and Brown experiences are so powerful and moving, especially a recent article exploring why women of colour aren’t believed when it comes to mental health issues. Her articles on the state of racism in the UK have also been especially helpful as I learn more about the history of racism in the country.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
One of my managers at my first PR job used to always say “It’s PR not ER” when it came to dealing with client and agency fire drills. It was especially helpful to me as I was starting out in my PR career because it reminded me to keep a cool head when things went wrong or not as planned (which is pretty much a typical day in PR/comms). As I’ve gotten older, this mantra has continued to help me keep things in perspective when dealing with a tough client or a cheeky journalist with a seemingly unending list of requests.
Biggest PR campaign fail and yay of 2021 so far?
Biggest PR Fail of 2021: This would have to be Burger King’s social media fail with its International Women’s Day 2021 tweet where they published: “Women belong in the kitchen.” Although Burger King claimed this was supposed to be part of an ongoing thread encouraging more women to be in head-chef roles, the backlash on social media was swift (rightfully so).
Biggest Yay of 2021: I loved the PR campaign from Pantone Color Institute and Highland Spring, where they created a urine colour scale to help people better understand the importance of hydration. The ‘Pee Healthy Guide’ was a fun and quirky way of tackling an important topic people might feel uncomfortable discussing publicly, while providing tips on how people can improve their hydration habits.
Finally, on the D’ word… What can the sector do to encourage diversity?
The sector needs to start promoting more people of colour to senior leadership positions, where there is more opportunity to make a tangible difference. Most recently, McKinsey came out with a report that Black workers make up 12% of entry-level private sector workers, but representation plummets to 7% at the manager level.
With more of a focus on supporting Black, Brown and those from underrepresented groups on the path to promotion, I believe there will be more diverse voices at the top championing the importance of fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace.
Whitney was awarded a place on The Xec. Leadership Scheme for UK-based Black, Asian, Mixed Race and Ethnic Minority PR and comms pros. She will be mentored by Anisha Vikram Shah, Consulting Director, Blurred.