Profile: Yasmin Diamond, comms director, Home Office

Dedicated Home Office comms director Yasmin Diamond is unfazed by Jackie Smith's departure as Home Secretary, finds Matt Cartmell.

Yasmin Diamond
Yasmin Diamond

Whoever said a week was a long time in politics was not joking. When PRWeek met Yasmin Diamond, she was reporting to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.

Now, following Smith's embarrassing fall from grace, Diamond has a new Home Secretary to work with in the form of the affable Alan Johnson. She will continue to advise him on headline-grabbing issues such as ID cards, terror rulings and the small matter of expenses.

Diamond, is swift to explain she had no dealings with the expenses furore, which was the remit of Smith and her special advisers. She also denies the debacle had any impact on the atmosphere in her department or on her relationship with Smith herself.

'The expense story is about Parliament,' she observes authoritatively. 'In the Home Office, staff are here to work on the policy areas for which we are responsible, to deliver our strategy and to ensure we are providing services or information to the highest possible standard.'

She is brusque when asked if Smith's agenda changed during her final weeks as Home Secretary. 'I don't really want to get into all that. It's very political,' comes the clipped response.

But she explains it best herself when discussing the care that needs to be taken with public money. In her case, it is money used for PR campaigns, but her words could be applied to any area of government.

'I've always been one for not using public money for things when you wouldn't use your own,' she explains. 'I think as a director of comms in the current climate, you have to be even more vociferous and make sure public money is spent properly. I've always done that, but I would say the need is heightened now.'

Inevitably, someone in Diamond's position is more on-message than, for instance, the average entertainment PRO. And Diamond is a savvy, by-the-book media operator - adept at deflecting a troublesome line of questioning to her key messages with precision, while maintaining an air of northern no-nonsense.

But energy is her defining characteristic. As HM Revenue & Customs director of comms and marketing Simon MacDowall says: 'She runs one of Whitehall's most pressurised comms directorates with great energy and a smile on her face.'

Portland PR partner Steve Morris - who followed Diamond into the job of Defra director of comms - says: 'Yasmin is energetic, fearless and fun. She won a lot of respect for modernising Defra's comms department. She's tough and very hard-working - qualities anybody in her job needs.'

As a Muslim woman from Bradford, Diamond cuts an unusual figure in Whitehall. She proudly proclaims she is true to her northern roots. And she is no victim, despite the fact it cannot be easy being a female Muslim in the predominantly white, male corridors of power.

'I have a certain kind of attitude - I'm incredibly hard-working, and I want to do a really good job,' she says. 'I like doing really hard jobs.' But she adds she has had to work hard to overcome the stereotype of white men in Whitehall, and get to where she is today.

Not that this is a problem for Diamond: 'I'm so hard-working I don't know where the bar is set when you are not hard- working.' She admits this work ethic means those working under her can find her 'challenging'.

Diamond was offered her current job while heavily pregnant and heading up comms at Defra, just weeks after Gordon Brown took over at Number 10. She was delighted to get what she still considers her dream job.

'I must be mad, but it is. The issues are just so interesting,' she gushes with enthusiasm. 'Like, how do you move an issue on without there being a deadlock?'

Diamond denies the Government's current problems are anything out of the ordinary, claiming that the news agenda is always turbulent.

Neither does she believe the Government has a credibility issue. She says she has faith in the media to rise above expenses and properly deal with her department's policies.

However, she admits turbulence can sometimes completely destroy a carefully planned story.

'There are certain times when you've got a brilliant idea, you've got a brilliant execution and it lands out there, then something else happens and no-one's interested in it any more. You've just got to weather that.'

 

DIAMOND'S TURNING POINTS

- What was your biggest career break?

My first job at the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television. The arts communications world is quite competitive to get into and I worked on some fantastic exhibitions and learned a lot. It was my first proper job.

- Have you had a notable mentor?

I have worked with some brilliant people. There are probably two - the first is Peter Wanless, who is now the chief executive of the Big Lottery. He is a great manager and he really knows how to bring out the best in people. I learned a lot from him. The other is Howell James - he has amazing judgement and he's been there, he's done so much. He helps you work through something. When he gives advice he does it with panache.

- What advice would you give to anyone climbing the career ladder?

Work really hard. Be determined. Go for the hard jobs and enjoy them. And work for organisations in which you believe. If you don't believe in what you're doing you'll be quite miserable.

- What do you prize in new recruits?

I recruit on potential. I look at charm, intelligence and determination.

 

CV

- 2008: Director of communications, Home Office

- 2005: Director of communications, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

- 2001: Head of corporate communications, Dept for Education and Skills

- 2000: Head of marketing, Welfare to Work, Dept for Education and Employment

- 1999: Publicity commissioner, BBC Broadcast

- 1995: Senior communications manager, NHS Executive

- 1992: Marketing manager, Bradford Health Authority

- 1991: Press & publications manager - Axis: Visual Arts Information Service

- 1989: Assistant press officer, National Museum of Photography, Film & Television

Matt Cartmell

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