National Women’s History Month comes once a year, and there’s always a particular amount of fanfare pegged to International Women’s Day on March 8th. At Jennifer Bett Communications, we aim to celebrate and champion women in everything we do, every single day — and this month is no exception.
Here Jennifer Bett Meyer and Melissa Duren Conner, talk about why promoting women-run businesses is core to what we do, the challenges that arise while doing so, and where the future of shopping and storytelling is headed.
Happy National Women’s History Month to you both! Let’s start by getting a better idea of who you work with and the stories you’re trying to tell. Your roster is predominantly startup brands — why’s that?
Melissa Duren Conner: Startups are incredibly interesting to us, and it goes without saying that they’re the future of the way customers shop. That’s really exciting for us as professionals. We started JBC because we knew there was an opportunity for us to be a strong partner to these evolving brands.
Jennifer Bett Meyer: In the beginning of the startup conversation, the only brands you really heard about were Warby Parker, Dollar Shave Club, Harry’s, Everlane, Bonobos … and they’re all run by men. Every single one of them. It really wasn’t until a few years ago that people were finally starting to realize that women have unbelievable ideas for startups too. Besides Spanx, Birchbox, and Rent the Runway, there really weren’t a lot of brands in that space that people were talking about.
Melissa: And there are a lot of great brands run by women! So we actively sought out those female-run businesses. We saw the challenges that these women faced in regards to things like funding and really getting their stories across, and we wanted to help them be successful — especially in markets that are dominated by men.
Jennifer: There are brilliant women out there with brilliant ideas, and we didn’t really feel like there was an agency that was taking the time to get to know these companies and figure out the right way to give them the brand awareness they need.
Melissa: We really believe at a macro level that women-run businesses should and will be just as big as those run by men. A lot of people still believe that Warby Parker and Bonobos are these huge unicorns, and that women can’t bring brands to that kind of scalability and size. We believe, fundamentally, that that’s just not true.
Who are some of your clients that you feel really illustrate the opportunities women have in the startup world? What are they doing that’s different?
Melissa: One of our brands that really comes to mind here, for me, is Farmgirl Flowers. The flower business is predominantly a business for women, but if you look at all the incumbent brands and the startups in that space, they’re all run by men. Farmgirl is the only female-run flower delivery service operating at that scale. The founder, Christina Stembel, completely bootstrapped it, and it’s grown into a business that’s doing very well.
Jennifer: Also Parachute. Ariel Kaye, the company founder, broke into a market that no one had really explored this deeply before. She didn’t want to just settle on only doing bedding, which is where a lot of her contemporaries are. Instead, she sought out to redefine comfort and really change how people shop for their homes.
Melissa: Follain is another great example of a female-run business that’s really rooted in telling a story. The founder, Tara Foley, is unbelievably passionate about clean, safe personal care and beauty products – she launched her retail business 5 years ago to educate consumers on safer products that still feel like a luxurious experience- that’s what you want from your skincare routine no matter what. Since then she has made huge strides in highlighting the amazing brands that create product that is not only safe to use but performs at a higher level than conventional beauty products. This isn’t just a beauty company, its a movement and that’s what gets us so excited.
Jennifer: And Lunya, which is so much bigger than just a sleepwear brand; the founder Ashley Merrill is really trying to start a movement to empower women.
We also work with Cuyana, an accessories and clothing brand that was founded by two super smart women, Karla Gallardo and Shilpa Shah. With all of these brands, we’re learning from them as much as they’re benefiting from our services. The way that they run and operate and build their teams and scale their businesses is so smart, and it really helps us look at how we’re building our business as well.
Let’s talk about your business. What do you see as your strengths in the PR world?
Melissa: I think first and foremost, as communications people, we have a deep understanding of startups and what they need; we just really understand this space a lot better than some of our peers. Brands needs have changed so much over the past 5-10 years and what we have learned is that consumers want to know a brand and its founder before they cast their vote for them via a purchase. It’s imperative that as a communications profession, we evolve with the demand and provide brands opportunities to tell their stories on the media platforms that matter most to their end consumer. I think a lot of traditional publicists haven’t made the conscious decision to evolve and understand this space.
Jennifer: I think a lot of it too is what we’ve done. It’s on our website and it might sound cheesy, but Melissa and I really see JBC publicists as storytellers. We really take the time to figure out the narratives that our clients want to tell, and the movements they’re starting.
Melissa: Yes. First of all, we have to be good at being publicists and addressing the needs for the kinds of brands were working with. We really feel that we’ve assembled a team of people who get it, and can provide the kind of results and client servicing they need.
What did you do for International Women’s Day?
Jennifer: We’d been talking about International Women’s Day since last year! We felt that as women, and as a company that is 90% women and with a roster that’s 80% female-run businesses, it was really important that we didn’t just talk about it to press but that we did something a little more meaningful.
So we did a few things. We hosted a breakfast for some of our female founders and some supportive press, because we wanted them to be connected and share their stories and struggles and accomplishments with each other. I think a lot of women founders can feel a little alone. Men are chatting all the time and talking to VCs, and we wanted to connect all the women we work with so that they really felt like they had a support system.
Then, throughout that entire day we opened up the JBC office to young female entrepreneurs that need PR advice but can’t afford to hire an agency. So we did 15-20 minute time slots where we had them come in or call us and say: This is the brand I’m launching, this is the company I’m thinking about — what advice would you give me? By the end of the day we had spoken with over 50 women.
Melissa: We also teamed up with Period. At shelters, women aren’t provided with any kind of menstruation supplies, so as a way to provide support there, we assembled packages that’ll go to shelters in New York City, so that when women check in, they’ll have the things that they need that aren’t provided to them.
We’re hopefully going to do the open house more often. It was really nice, and the amount of gratitude there was amazing. A lot of young entrepreneurs don’t really know what to do on the PR side in the beginning, so helping them early on was really moving.
Specifically, in regards to running a female-led business yourselves, do you think there are any strengths specific to being a woman that you bring to the table?
Melissa: I think people are afraid to say that women are emotional, but for us, we really do need to have personal connections with our brands. We need to personally feel inspired and connected to a brand for us to do the best job that we can .We can’t have an impersonal relationship and buy into whatever mission statement they have. And they have to want to be as integrated as possible with us — it goes both ways.
It serves them better because we care more. We take them very seriously and we’re emotionally invested in each of these brands and how they grow and if they get that round of funding. If they don’t, we feel personally like we failed. A little emotion is more than OK.
How have you seen that reflected back by your brands?
Melissa: There really is a sense of fearlessness that so many of our female founders have. One of our clients, Minibar Delivery, has two female co-founders. Every single brand in that space is run by men, and as a whole, the food and beverage industry is completely run by men. So their fearlessness to get into a space where they’re truly the minority in a lot of different ways is also something that makes us excited. We really respect and have a true warrior feeling for the women that we work with. They’re not afraid to be in these spaces where they know they’re the underdog but they’re doing it anyway.