Sarah Waddington | Innovator 25 EMEA 2021

Sarah Waddington




It can be easy to allow client briefs or organisational culture to constrain thinking. Always start with the user experience in mind; it can revolutionise your approach."

Sarah Waddington is known as a force of nature – and a selfless force for good – in the UK communications industry. A former president of the CIPR, her ethos has always been to serve, and to educate; she puts every ounce of her substantial energy into demonstrating the value of public relations in all spheres, from the work of NHS communicators (showcased in her FuturePRoof series of publications), to supporting businesses in the hard-hit North of England through the Covid-19 crisis, to advocating for diversity in all its facets. In her most innovative move yet, this year Waddington co-founded Socially Mobile with her husband Stephen Waddington, having conceived the idea in 2018 as a means of addressing endemic issues within the PR industry relating to social mobility. The Community Interest Company (CIC) aims to accelerate the career of PR practitioners from lower socio-economic backgrounds, as well as those from under-represented and under-served groups including Black, Asian and ethnic minority practitioners, women returnees, and those with disabilities, from a tactical to a management role and increase their earning potential through a 10-week executive education programme. The industry response to the initiative has been overwhelmingly positive, with volunteers donating their time as teachers, guest speakers and assessors, as well as financial support: as well as seed-funding from the Waddingtons’ own consultancies Astute.Work and Wadds Inc, Socially Mobile is sponsored by FleishmanHillard UK, Porter Novelli, CoverageBook, Curzon PR, Don't Cry Wolf and Story Comms. Waddington was awarded a CBE for services to public relations and voluntary sectors in the Queen's birthday honours this June. 


How would you describe the communications/PR industry's level of innovation compared to other marketing disciplines?
About the same.

Do you think the global pandemic has made the industry more innovative?
I think the PR industry is innovative, but what has changed through the pandemic is the receptiveness of organisations to new ideas and modernisation.

Where is the PR industry's greatest opportunity for taking the lead on innovation?
Advice around the delivery of business objectives in terms of articulating purpose, managing change and communicating with stakeholders.

Who most influences how innovative a brand's engagement is?

How do you define innovation?
Incremental changes that help an organisation improve, evolve and grow.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
Altogether Different by Channel 4 – bold and brave at a pivotal time for the broadcaster

In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
The NHS has really had to innovate over this last 18 months. Hats off to its communication teams, we see you.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider 'innovative.'
When I finally hit upon the business model for Socially Mobile that would enable us to create a financially sustainable community interest company (CIC) that could scale to reach as many people as possible.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
Running. I get all my best ideas and do all my best writing when I'm running.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
It can be very easy to allow client briefs or organisational culture to constrain your thinking. Always start with the user experience in mind as it can revolutionise your approach.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
I love choosing presents for people and once seriously considered launching an online personalised gift service. Right now though I'd be happy to extend our camper van hire business.

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has helped you get through this year or provided inspiration?
I've been watching Grace and Frankie on Netflix, which we've affectionately termed Geriatric Friends. There is something empowering about a series about two older women who won't grow old in the way society dictates and who come up with some rather unique new business ideas based on their own needs. Also I love the Guardian's Today In Focus podcast which is a daily must-listen for me.

What's your favourite time of day and why?
I'm a morning person. It's when everything fires best. Simple as that.