For the emerging entrepreneurs among us, Public Relations (PR) has a glamorous and glossy reputation. We know we should get some, but let’s be honest, is it a luxury that we can truly afford? PR Guru, Jenelle Hamilton, has made a successful living handling the global PR accounts for numerous large brands, such as; Bob Mackie, The Shorty Awards, Mented Cosmetics and Andre Walker (Oprah’s personal hairstylist for 25 years). We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask her about why we should invest in PR and her journey to success.
Janelle is of Jamaican descent by way of Brixton, South London. These days she lives in New York City where she runs her agency, Jenelle Hamilton PR. She is passionate about educating black business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs on the importance of investing in publicity and personal branding. Her methods are well proven in the case of beauty brand Mented, helping to raise the brands’ profile, instrumental no doubt in them becoming the 15th & 16th black women to ever raise over $1M in funding.
Find out more about Jenelle, in her own words…
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Focused. Driven. Compassionate.
What do you do for a living, in your words?
Help make people’s business dreams and passions come true, by spreading the word about their product or service and working with the media.
You are a South London girl, how did you end up in America?
I came to NYC on vacation and fell in love with it. I wanted to challenge myself and would rather be a small fish in a big pond. I wanted to challenge myself and NYC is the center of all things beauty PR, so I knew I had to move here.
In a sentence, what is PR and why do emerging entrepreneurs need it?
Public Relations is a great tool in helping to raise awareness of your business, product or service. It’s amazing having a business, that alone is a great achievement. However, if no one knows you exist, how can you flourish? That’s where publicity comes in to play. A great publicist will ensure that your target consumer knows who you are, what your product or service is and what makes you different from the competition.
How did you get into PR?
I knew that I didn’t want to work a typically 9-5 job that would have me stuck behind a desk all day. When I was trying to figure out which degree to do, I flipped through a careers book in the library and stumbled across public relations. It sounded interesting to me, so I decided to take that path. Prior to that point, I had NO idea what PR was, or what it entailed.
Most black owned businesses start off small, tell us your personal experience about starting small?
I truly started with my cellphone and a laptop out of my apartment in Manhattan. I’d been working at several top PR agencies in London and New York for over a decade, before deciding to go out on my own. I landed my first client, then second client and it sort of snowballed from there. My original plan was to freelance for a little while, but I was having so much fun working with cool brands, that it sort of grew in to a full-fledged agency.
What are some of your successes, personally?
The fact that I have remained in business for nearly eight years. So many businesses fail within the first 18 months. And I actually started my business during a recession! The fact that my company is still thriving, and I continue to attract high-caliber, world renowned brands is amazing to me.
Why did you want to work with Mented?
When I met with the co-founders of Mented, I knew they had something special. Working with dozens of beauty brands for over a decade, it takes a lot to get me excited. But when Amanda and KJ told me about the concept and products, they spoke to me. As a woman of colour, I understand how hard it is to find products that truly work for me. I knew it was going to be big. On a personal note, I wanted to help them reach their target customer and I wanted every black woman to know that these amazing products existed! It warms my heart to see how far Mented has come in 18 months. They recently raised $3 million in funding, it’s incredible.
How did you help in Mented’s journey?
The publicity my team secured definitely helped to raise the brands’ profile in a short space of time. I think being able to bring clips of media placements they had received to investors, to show that there was an interest in their story and products, played a role in getting investors on board. If Vanity Fair and Vogue give you a nod (which they did) how can a potential investor not believe that there is something there and an audience that is interested.
“Being on the red carpet at the SAG Awards with my client, Bob Mackie, I had watched those fancy award shows my whole life and to be standing next to Leonardo DiCaprio, Sophia Vergara, Idris Elba was surreal. It was definitely a pinch me moment.”
Why do you focus on supporting black businesses?
I support black business with my dollars. I also love working with black start-ups and helping them go to the next level. It’s amazing to watch a brand thrive and grow, based off of the publicity and work we do together.
How important is investing in publicity and personal branding?
Clients do not often understand how much time goes in to a PR campaign. It is truly a collaborative process, and they need to be involved. Things such as having to sign off press releases and collateral materials we create. Making time in their schedule to answer interview Q+As, attend TV interviews and dial in for podcast and radio interviews.
In terms of money, yes, it is an investment, but when done well, it does yield results. The reach of one digital feature is huge and can help to increase sales of your product or enquiries about your service. It is hard for a business to succeed without PR and social media. It’s definitely something you need to budget for, when planning your launch.
You’re a mum, right? What’s the hardest thing about juggling family and running a business?
The lack of time. Days go by so quickly, as there is a lot to juggle. The biggest challenge is keeping my daughter happy and showing up for her when we are together. I also try to be present and not distracted by work emails or calls in the evening when she gets home. It’s hard, but I am getting better!
And the easiest?
Running my own business and being ‘the boss’, gives me a lot of freedom to manage my time and enjoy a flexible schedule. If I had to work a regular 9-5 job at an agency, in this profession, I’d miss so many school performances and things that are important to her. Publicists don’t have “regular” hours and I often work evening, weekends and travel for clients’ events. Being able to control, somewhat, what I do, makes it easier to achieve a life of balance.
What are some of the highlights of your career so far?
Being on the red carpet at the SAG Awards with my client, Bob Mackie, I had watched those fancy award shows my whole life and to be standing next to Leonardo DiCaprio, Sophia Vergara, Idris Elba was surreal. It was definitely a pinch me moment.
And some of the low points?
Having little income when I was starting my business. I remember worrying sometimes whether or not I would make rent and as a mother, you have a lot of pressure to provide. But I knew being an entrepreneur and running a business was my path and stuck it out. Obviously, it was worth it.
What four things should an emerging brand prioritize, to maximize exposure for their business?
Figuring out what you want to be known for. Learning about your customer, what TV shows they watch, which newspapers they read, which websites they visit regularly. Once you know that, you should work with editors to target those media outlets.
What’s your favourite holiday destination?
I went to Bali last year and fell in love with the place and people. It is truly a magical place and I definitely want to return.
What’s your favourite dish?
Any Jamaican food. I love the flavors and spices. You can’t go wrong with Jamaican food!
What do you do to relax?
Working out and meditation. I try my best to meditate and breathe every day. It’s important for me to disconnect, get quiet and be present.
Beauty- wise, I won’t leave the house without…. ?
A red matte lip. I don’t wear much make up, so as long as I am wearing red lipstick, I feel put together.
How would you describe your signature fashion style?
Classics. I invest in pieces that last long and never go out of style. I have an amazing collection of Hermes and Chanel clothes and bags. I put a ban on black and only buy colors. I think as you get older, colors make you look and feel more youthful and playful.
Find out more about Jenelle Hamilton