How I made it featuring Sarah Scholefield, CEO Grayling, UK & Ireland
For our latest inspiring stories series, 'How I made it', we're interviewing the cream of the crop across all facets of communications and marketing. This is where you'll learn about how the best in the industry got to where they are today and hopefully pick up some tips along the way to help your own career progress.
We sat down with Sarah Scholefield, CEO of Grayling, UK & Ireland, to find out more about her career and how she made it in the communications industry.
Having worked extensively in both the UK and in Asia, Sarah’s experience spans top corporate entities and global consumer brands. As a corporate reputation specialist, Sarah has created global positioning and thought leadership platforms across the world for leading global organisations. She joined Grayling in 2015 and, before joining the UK business, was responsible for running their global PayPal account. She is now the CEO for Grayling in the UK. Prior to that, Sarah worked as SVP at Fleishman Hillard, Edelman and Ruder Finn, running clients such as Diageo, Adidas, Visa, Carnival and Etihad. Sarah has been a TV presenter and was on the Board at Freud Communications in London. She also sits on the Board of the PRCA.
Read on to find out all about Sarah’s career journey.
How did you get into communications?
I was doing an English degree at the University of Manchester, and I remember someone saying to me ‘you’re really good at talking, you should go into PR’. I didn’t know what PR was but I got a job as receptionist in a financial PR agency. It was awful; an old school PR agency and really wasn’t for me.
However, after that, I went in-house to do the PR for a cable TV channel and then tinkered about with other things for several years. I’d say my big break was when I joined Freuds in 1999 – that was when I first started doing creative, strategically-led PR. Up until then I thought I knew what I was doing, but I hadn’t a clue.
What keeps you sane on those crazy days?
I take work and the business very seriously, but I don’t take myself too seriously.
We spend so much time with the people we work with, so it’s good to be able to ease the pressure by having a laugh. I think it’s good to lead with humour too; if people see that you’re enjoying your job and still having fun, they feel they have permission to do the same.
Do you, or did you, have a mentor?
Loads! I’ve been really lucky in that in every job I’ve had there’s always been one person who took me under their wing and stuck their neck out for me. When I worked at the cable channel, a woman called Maria Morgan taught me everything. At Freuds, it was Paul Melody, the creative director who taught me a massive amount and was a huge inspiration. At Fleishman-Hillard, Brian West – who recruited me – was always instructive and very supportive. I’ve always had someone there to guide me.
What three words best describe you as a communicator?
Energetic. Empathetic. Determined.
What career advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
Stick at stuff and don’t give up. In agency environments, we all speak this language which is intimidating and hard to understand when you’re a junior. It’s also very fast-paced, with a lot of plate spinning and sometimes it can just feel too hard. But stick at it.
Also, be a sponge – absorb everything. Try lots of different things and don’t get pigeon-holed into just doing one thing.
And enjoy it! Meet great people, be inspired, and listen. You only get one go at this.
What three things should businesses do to improve diversity?
I think we have to be better at defining what we mean by diversity. It’s not always about gender, sex or religion. It can also be about diversity of thinking, of life experience. One thing I love about PR is that you don’t need qualifications for it as long as you’re curious and interested. We need to be more of a broad church.
I think we need to do more to promote comms as a career option at school. Often people only join the profession because they know people in it. If you’re not exposed to that, you might not even know this type of work exists. We need to do more to promote it; it’s a really good job.
Lastly, we need to get better at being open about diversity and our challenges. The communications industry is diverse when you look at other sectors, but there is still room for improvement. However, there’s a fine line between making sure opportunities are available to all and getting trapped in things like quotas and tokenism. Everyone should get a role based on their skill and value, nothing else.
What one piece of technology can you not live without?
My iPhone. I need that much more than I need my computer.