Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

My Digital Hero: Sarah Whitfield, CMO, Buzzoole

We’re asking some of our industry’s leading figures to nominate their digital hero and to explain what’s so special about them.

Sarah Whitfield (nee Gavin) is a digital industry veteran. Prior to taking the marketing helm at Buzzoole, she was VP Marketing at Outbrain and has previously at worked companies including Bebo and AOL.

Who is your digital hero?

OK… so I’m going to cheat a little here and put forward more than one digital hero. Not sure if that’s allowed?!

My first hero, and someone from whom I learnt a great deal during my early forays into digital, is Baroness Joanna Shields. I have known and worked with Joanna since my early days at Bebo, where she was responsible for spearheading the social media network’s $850MM exit to AOL Time Warner in 2008 and pioneered a number of market breakthroughs before moving to Facebook.

My second hero, and the focus of this interview, is Cleo Wade. Cleo lives in New York City and is a poet, artist and author. She has been named one of America’s 50 Most Influential Women by Marie Claire and sits on the board of The Lower East Side Girls Club, as well as the advisory board of Gucci’s Chime for Change. These are just some of her many pursuits.

What have they done to win hero status in your eyes?

Influencer and Creator marketing is being tackled on many fronts through a lens of negativity. For instance, for many, Facebook has become like a family photo album; a hand-picked documentation of the best moments of our lives – often created with the paranoia of knowing that others are watching.

Likewise, Instagram (started as a place to share creativity and beautiful imagery) has become like the pages of a magazine: the most popular profiles featuring athletes and models with perfectly fit bodies, professional quality photos of smiling faces in far flung destinations, and acrobatic #fitspiration.

Cleo stands out for me as demonstrating social media’s “best self” and epitomises the word “Influencer”. She frequently uses her Instagram prestige to advocate for social movements, political issues and activist campaigns.

She works from a position of positivity and inspiration, and her creativity and poetry is centred in activism and female empowerment. She is growing in followers for all the right reasons and while there is nothing wrong with a beautiful and authentically-curated Instagram feed, I believe that the medium has more potential than that.

How has their heroism helped drive digital?

I would first recommend that if you haven’t had a chance you should watch Cleo’s Ted talk, “Want to change the world?”.

For me, being able to drive digital means you are disrupting things and through her work Cleo demonstrates the collective power to create change. She empowers those around her to have a voice (digital or otherwise) and strive for a higher purpose. This encourages others who, in her wake, follow the next generation of digital heroes like 16 year old climate change activist, Greta Thunberg.

What the biggest challenges in digital we need another hero to solve?

In order to ensure that we encourage and protect the next generation of digital disruptors we need a future digital hero to help address the widening digital talent gap.

Whether through education, financial investment, or other means, we need to ensure the digital skills of the future do not stagnate, and we must nurture and support the next generation of digital disruptors.

What is your most heroic personal achievement so far in digital?  

I helped introduce social media to a generation of marketers and (positively) disrupt the marketing echo-system forever.

We faced huge and sometimes unexpected challenges as we carved out a new path, both educating and learning as we went along.

Proving that it worked and that consumers really did want to hang-out, consume and share content on social media platforms was tough, and effectively proving the case for investment was even tougher.

But it was worth it and as we now know the industry followed in our footsteps!!  We even sent a message to another planet (Gliese 581c) in our efforts to entice and drive awareness.