Sara Johnston

Sara is a big-picture thinker, no matter how big the project. She inspires DH team members and clients to think that way, too — asking questions and inviting perspectives that broaden the view for everyone. Sara oversees DH’s operations, finance and paid media teams. She’s worked at DH for more than two decades, and she has built deep experience and expertise in public health, tribal groups and social marketing.
Advocate for research
Goes deep to create social change
Takes time to destress

Learn more about Sara:

  • Oversaw social change marketing campaigns on topics like seat-belt use, motorcycle safety, immunizations, public health education and enrollment in health plans
  • Executed national media relations programs to support class-action lawsuits, resulting in over 1,200 unique hits and $11 million in ad equivalency for a single campaign
  • Facilitated campaigns for Washington state agencies including Washington Traffic Safety Commission, Department of Health, Health Care Authority, Utilities and Transportation Commission, Labor and Industries, Department of Licensing, Department of Revenue and more
  • Oversaw multi-million dollar paid media programs reaching every county in Washington State with special emphasis on historically excluded communities.
  • Led national and statewide qualitative and quantitative research projects for clients ranging from Express Scripts to the Washington State Department of Health.
  • Developed community relations and public education campaigns for the Kalispel Tribe, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and Squaxin Island tribe
  • Serves on the Pacific Northwest Social Marketing Association Board

Sara’s take on:

The role of research in paid media

The options are pretty much limitless when it comes to paid media, considering the always-evolving digital options, the traditional options, and the options that will be invented next week. With so many choices, it’s critical that paid media campaigns are driven by research.

Sara says:

Good data lets you gain a deep understanding of your audiences and the best ways to reach them.

What’s important to your audiences? What are their interests, habits, preferences, lifestyles? And what does that have to do with your message? Research and the insights you derive from what you learn let you develop smart creative that makes meaningful connections. And they help you to identify the right medium to carry it.

“Just the message delivered via just the right medium? That drives powerful results,” Sara says.

The deep, long work of creating social change

DH often uses social change marketing — a combination of behavior-change principles and marketing techniques — to help clients build healthier, safer and stronger people and places.

To create that change, you have to dig deep, Sara says: into behavioral economics and models, and into the barriers or stigmas or other issues facing your audience. In the end, the goal is to figure out where people are — why they’re behaving in certain ways — so we can connect with them in ways that mean something.

“We also have to remember that social change marketing is really about the long game,” she says. “Change won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be based on one strategy. It requires forming new social and cultural norms, and that takes years.”

Yoga and meditation for destressing

Sara practices yoga or meditates several times a week. She’s found that taking time to slow down, get out of her head and recenter is a great way to take care of herself physically, emotionally and spiritually.

“Yoga and meditation are beautiful ways to slow down, cope with stress and juggle the fast-pace of life,” she says.


Master of arts, communication and leadership studies, Gonzaga University

 Bachelor of science, communication and public relations, Eastern Washington University


Leadership & Volunteering

Board of Directors, Pacific Northwest Social Marketing Association

Past board member, YMCA of the Inland Northwest

Adjunct faculty, communication and leadership studies, Gonzaga University (2007-2018)


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