My Big Break: Esther Black, senior corporate affairs manager, The Crown Estate

ESTHER Black is senior corporate affairs manager with The Crown Estate, based in Edinburgh.

The Crown Estate manages the leasing of the seabed for renewable energy, and also looks after around half of the foreshore and five rural estates in Scotland, with all profits paid to UK government public finances.

Says Esther: “The team works with local communities and businesses across Scotland, supporting sustainable development in sectors such as offshore renewables, tourism and aquaculture.”

When did working in the media first start becoming an ambition?

It wasn’t until university that I started to seriously consider journalism as a career. I studied politics at Glasgow University and was surrounded by dozens of budding journalists. A friend and I decided we’d start our own magazine, more serious than anything else that was around. It carried film reviews, cartoons and such like, and I wanted to rid the world of human rights abuses. The head of department felt sorry for us and gave us £100, and we proceeded to hassle local businesses to take out adverts. ‘Niche’ lasted for all of four editions but I like to think we made our mark.

What was your first ‘media job’?

With DC Thomson, that stalwart of Scottish journalism. I was a sub-editor, then features writer, and ended up on news at The Courier. I loved every minute and DC was very good (if patriarchal) in how they treated staff.

Chief reporter, Sandy McGregor, taught me how to nurture contacts and chase off-diary stories. But, after a few years, it was time to move on…

Describe, briefly, how your career unfolded between your first media job and where you are now.

I joined the Green MSPs in 2004, and spent a thoroughly enjoyable three years at the Scottish Parliament, campaigning against climate-wreaking policies and promoting what were then new and novel approaches to reducing greenhouse gases, such as zero waste.

After a brief spell at National Museums Scotland in 2007, I joined Pagoda PR and worked for various public and private sector clients – the Children’s Commissioner, Heriot-Watt University, Waitrose, several renewable energy companies, and The Crown Estate.

I ventured to Sydney for an 18-month secondment, where I worked in crisis communications for FMCG companies before landing a permanent post at a fantastic campaigning agency, Essential Media.

Credited with running John Howard out of government, they had strategy and message development down to a fine art, and knew how to communicate serious, powerful messages in a media landscape dominated by tabloids and commercial broadcast.

They unashamedly had a mission to ‘help the organisations we believe in win campaigns’ that ‘make Australia a better place’ and the client base was largely trade unions and environmental NGOs. Australians are early adopters and it was there that I learned how to use social and digital media effectively.

Any particularly big breaks along the way?

Landing a job with the Green MSPs in the second term of the Parliament. With seven of them there, it really felt like politics had changed for good. It was hard, though – many political journalists didn’t take the Greens seriously at that time, and we had to work all hours just to get past the ‘lentils-and-sandals’ nonsense. But I got a great grounding in grassroots and NGO campaigning and learnt how to integrate PR and policy work. It also sparked an enduring enthusiasm for initiatives that help communities realise their own potential and ambition – a big part of my current post.

Who would you like to thank more than most?

Undoubtedly, George Baxter at the Greens (now at SSE) and Maggie Dun, former editor of The Sunday Post magazine. They both gave me an incredible amount of encouragement and really took the time to coach and mentor me. And the directors at Pagoda PR, Ian Coldwell and Giselle Dye – an outstanding team.

What do you know now that you wished you had known when you started?

Be more tech-savvy (I’m getting there now); have a spell working in London; experience and a hunger for success are worth any qualification many times over. And always, always pick up the phone to contacts – sounds simple, but I think we’re far too email-dependant now and it really hinders developing good working relationships.