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10 Minutes with a PR Pro: Sarah Pinch, Pinch Point Comms

Sarah Pinch chats with us about campaigning, never giving up, and the industry’s diversity problem

Role: Managing Director Organisation: Pinch Point Communications Twitter: @ms_organised Sarah Pinch was featured in the 2015 PR Week Global Power Book. As part of our #PRProSeries, Janie Emmerson, MD of Communications at Hanson Search, interviewed Sarah to find out how she made it in the industry.

Why did you get into communications?

All I ever wanted to be was a journalist and work for the BBC, so I did just that. I worked for the BBC for 12 years when I went for a promotion and I didn’t get it. This was the first time that I’d gone for promotion and not got the job. I had a brilliant HR manager who suggested that I could go and speak to a careers counsellor. On the third session I realised that I felt like I needed to leave the BBC; the counsellor said that she’d actually worked that out in the first session. I didn’t know what to do, but one of my colleagues had seen an advert for public relations manager at Christian Aid. I went for the interview, got the job, and worked for a phenomenal woman called Cheryl Campbell. She had taken a similar path some years previously, moving from broadcasting into public relations. Cheryl recommended that I find a PR network, so I joined an organisation called fifth estate, which in turn introduced me to the CIPR and was hugely useful to my development. That was back in 2000, and 16 years later I’m still doing it!

What personal attribute has most helped you succeed in your career?

Never giving up. I’ve worked in some tough environments where you come in for a lot of criticism. Personal resilience in these situations is really important. I have always had a broad network for support, and a small group of people who I trust implicitly. It’s important to know who to go to for advice. Being head of communications can be quite lonely. Often you can’t share things with your team or your peers around the board so building these networks is important. In addition, I trained as a journalist and am inherently interested in people and ideas. I think having an enquiring mind is a very useful thing for a PR person. I’ve also always tried to be clear about my own ethics and moral code. Being sure about what you’re prepared to go along with and what you’re not is important. And that’s where being a member of the CIPR has stood me in good stead as it has its own code of conduct, I had it on my wall when I worked at the NHS.

What would you say has been the biggest challenge that you’ve overcome?

There hasn’t been one big thing I’ve overcome but I can think of plenty of things that have been challenging. For example, working alongside people in finance and persuading them of the value of PR when it is something they have historically thought of as “free”. I also remember distinctly going to a meeting with a male colleague and throughout that meeting someone kept looking to him for confirmation. He dealt with that brilliantly, saying that all decisions must be run through the director, before turning to me and saying “so what do you think, Sarah.” That sense that people think you can’t be the boss because you’re a woman has been challenging. It’s also been tough standing up to senior colleagues when you don’t agree with them, but ensuring you do that in the spirit of collaboration.

Who would you say has been the most inspiring person you’ve worked with?

Cheryl Campbell was very inspiring. She is bright, no nonsense and clear on her approach. She gives you the confidence to stick to your own principles and believe in your own professionalism. She was a role model for me, in terms of coming from a broadcasting career into PR. And she is an inspirational senior woman in business. I also admire Dr Anne Gregory, the former president of the CIPR, because of her work in helping chief execs understand the value of our industry. I think her work is without comparison. She’s an extraordinary woman and incredibly supportive. She always has wise counsel as well as being one of our best academic brains. I’m delighted to call her a friend.

What is the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?

Don’t give up. The biggest influence in my life was my maternal grandmother, who instilled in me from a young age that anything was possible. Nothing comes for free but hard work and determination will get you where you want to be. I really believe that.

In ten years’ time, what do you think will be the biggest change in the global communications industry?

I think the ‘connected world’ provides so much opportunity but also has huge impact in terms of both positive and negative ways for communicating. Managing the interface between an organisation and the public will continue to be important. I think one of the big challenges will be dealing with the negativity, criticism and reputational damage from the anonymity afforded by social media. I also think that we, as an industry, have an issue with diversity. We don’t pay our women enough and we’re still not diverse enough, whether it’s about gender, background or race. There are roles for engineers in PR as well as wordsmiths and we need to be more grown-up about who we recruit and from where. Overall though there’s a positive outlook. We know PR professionals are being invited into many more things than before and that can only be a good thing.

What would you say are the three words that best describe you as a communicator?

Organised. Passionate. Professional.

Apart from your current role, what would be your dream role within communications?

I’m a frustrated politician. My heart is in campaigning. One of the things that has been both a privilege and an embarrassment to work on has been the gender pay gap. It’s embarrassing that we’re still having to talk about it but I’m privileged that I’ve been able to champion that work. I think my ideal job would be global campaigning and I do this is in my own small way by my calling out things in our profession, that I believe are unfair. If someone told me there was a role that would enable me to talk about these issues on a larger scale, I’d think about it very seriously.

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Author: Janie Emmerson

Janie leads Hanson Search's European offering. Based out of our London office, she manages both the London and Paris team, supporting and guiding their efforts across the region.

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