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How Jenna Cason of Hi Oak Tackles The Extreme Work Life Balance

The dwindling resources of focus and energy: where I used to have them in spades, they have been increasingly hard to come by. As a mother, running a business from the upstairs office when your toddler and husband are loudly negotiating snack time options downstairs is nigh impossible. Juggling the acts of running a business […]

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The dwindling resources of focus and energy: where I used to have them in spades, they have been increasingly hard to come by. As a mother, running a business from the upstairs office when your toddler and husband are loudly negotiating snack time options downstairs is nigh impossible. Juggling the acts of running a business and tending to “life admin” has always been a challenge, but it feels like someone just upped the ante by throwing in a tightrope and a flamethrower. Anyways, I’ve had to spend a lot of intentional time recharging, refocusing and redirecting since March.


The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of my series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jenna Cason.

Jenna is the CEO and Founder of Hi Oak, a marketing and PR consulting firm. Prior to founding Hi Oak, Jenna worked for the NFL (where she was part of the PR staff for two Super Bowls), served as the spokesperson for a multi-billion-dollar technology company, worked as the Director of Corporate Communications for a software company, and acted as part of the Houston-based management team for a global PR firm — all by the age of 30! Jenna is based in Houston, Texas, and her company serves clients worldwide.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Ok, here’s what you need to know: I co-owned an earthworm-farming business when I was 12, I devoted years of my life to becoming a concert pianist and failed tremendously, and I willingly worked seven unpaid internships in college. Other than that, the progression of my career has been rather ordinary!

I settled on PR and marketing as a freshman in college because a stranger told me I would be good at it. To date, I’ve run marketing and PR for over 100 brands; I’ve been at the bottom of the marketing totem pole, and I’ve also grown and managed multi-functional teams from the ground up; I’ve managed agencies from the client side, and I’ve worked for clients on the agency side. I’ve observed and internalized how various-sized businesses operate from a multitude of angles, and ever the entrepreneur, I eventually felt a yearning to start my own. And now I feel reborn, like my growth isn’t inhibited because I need to stay within the parameters of a company-generated job description.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

Something that has certainly surprised me is how supportive old clients, colleagues and connections have been in building Hi Oak’s book of business. I would say 80% of Hi Oak’s revenue has come from existing connections and word-of-mouth referrals. Never burn bridges, and never underestimate the power of a human connection!

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

People have long turned to creative expression during times of crises, and over the past few months, I’ve had the rewarding opportunity to promote and market several meaningful passion projects. One of our clients is launching a new web series aimed at elevating the voices of diverse comedians while bringing laughter to the world (both are needed right now); another is creating tools and resources for moms who feel lost and overwhelmed (who can relate??). I think we’ll continue to see a lot of new, impactful products and companies come to market over the next several months or even years.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve had many great mentors, cheerleaders and colleagues, but I’m most grateful for my parents. This probably sounds crazy, but the best thing they did for my career was they raised me like a boy! My sister and I grew up with four brothers, and my parents always treated all six of us the same, which established some sort of a subconscious foundational equilibrium that has benefited me throughout my entire career. When I got my first few jobs in the male-dominant industries of professional sports and technology, I always expected to be treated like “the boys.” I sat at the table with them, I spoke up around them, I stood up to them when necessary, and I demanded to be paid at least as much as them. And while I didn’t realize it at the time, looking back now, that mentality and confidence allowed me to climb the ladder quickly at a young age and still benefits me today.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

It’s been so difficult to have our entire worlds turned upside down by forces that are so wildly out of our control. In March, my husband was laid off from his full-time job, my daughter’s preschool program closed indefinitely, and Hi Oak took an immediate financial hit. Everyone’s role in our family changed on a dime: my husband was suddenly the primary caregiver and teacher; I was the sole income provider; and our sweet, unknowing daughter had to roll with the ever changing schedules, dynamics and moods of our household. But I’m a big believer that every problem is figureoutable, and while this is no doubt a HUGE problem, my family and I are doing our best to figure it all out, at least as it pertains to our little world.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

After I — a certified Type A “fixer” — figured out there was absolutely nothing I could do to single-handedly fix a global health crisis or an economic recession, I realized that I needed to focus on what I could control. Being extremely processes and systems oriented, I rely heavily on documented schedules, to-do lists, shareable color-coded calendars, the works. My husband and I meet weekly to plan out the days ahead. We communicate often about what is working, what needs adjusting, and what items are OK to go on the back burner for now (and there are many). We’ve created new schedules and systems that work for us; we’ve revised said schedules and systems many times. We’re still figuring it all out. Sometimes –many times–things don’t go as planned, and that’s OK!

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

The dwindling resources of focus and energy: where I used to have them in spades, they have been increasingly hard to come by. As a mother, running a business from the upstairs office when your toddler and husband are loudly negotiating snack time options downstairs is nigh impossible. Juggling the acts of running a business and tending to “life admin” has always been a challenge, but it feels like someone just upped the ante by throwing in a tightrope and a flamethrower. Anyways, I’ve had to spend a lot of intentional time recharging, refocusing and redirecting since March.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

I’m becoming OK with offloading responsibilities that I once wholly owned or oversaw, i.e. laundry, cooking, cleaning. I realized the hard way that it’s not possible to “do it all” during times like these. I try to focus on managing my schedule rather than letting my schedule manage me. I replenish my energy and focus by exercising or going outside, albeit in Houston’s sweltering, muggy heat. It was an adjustment to transition from the gym to my ill-equipped and un-airconditioned yard, but our entire family (including the toddler) has grown to love our morning workouts. It has been a welcome replacement to our pre-covid morning rush routines.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

Perhaps the only good thing about all of this is that we are all in this mess together. Everyone is dealing with a new normal of some sort. There’s no need to pretend you have it all together: none of us do. Share your struggles with friends and family; ask for advice or help if you need it. There’s no shame in merely surviving amid a worldwide crisis –that in and of itself is a victory! I will share one tip because I could always use this reminder myself: in balancing the needs of work, home, and family, don’t forget to include the needed care of yourself.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

Focus on the future you can see. You may not be able to predict what will happen months from now or even a month from now, but you can plan the day or even the week ahead. And if you need alone time, don’t be afraid to take it. I don’t know about you, but I am not my best self when confined to my home with my family. Sometimes I need a moment to myself or to go on a walk alone; my family understands this and doesn’t take it as a personal attack (my guess is that they appreciate the break, as well). If I feel myself getting worked up, overwhelmed or anxious, I try to step away, collect my thoughts and reenter the situation when I feel more grounded.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

  1. After we all survive this, can anything defeat us, really? We likely won’t get the “I made it through 2020” T-shirts we so rightfully have earned, but who of us hasn’t gained more fortitude? More resilience? More gratitude? And more appreciation for the previously undervalued commodities of toilet paper and Clorox wipes?
  2. This time has given us all time to recognize, think about and begin to correct social injustices. I fully believe that circumstances surrounding the Corona Crisis created a once-in-a-lifetime environment wherein many important conversations could take root and begin to turn into much-needed action.
  3. Is this “goodbye, forever” to the morning rush? The workday has been completely flipped on its head, and one of many beautiful side effects is the death of the morning scramble. If I never have to navigate bumper-to-bumper morning rush hour traffic with my knee, while simultaneously whipping on a coat of mascara and encircling my head with an aerosol cocktail of dry shampoo and hairspray, I’ll exit this crisis a happy woman.
  4. We’ve been forced to get back to the basics of life: making our own bread, creating at-home workouts, becoming involved in our children’s education, gardening, writing, creating, sewing. I wasn’t aware of how much we previously outsourced or avoided until we had to handle it all ourselves, and I think we’ll keep some of those activities in-house forever (except for bread making; you can keep that one).
  5. Hopefully, we’ll all have gained greater empathy after all of this. Maybe we’ll be more apt to help rather than criticize those who have lost jobs, homes, health insurance and needed support systems. Maybe, as employers, we’ll no longer demand that employees prioritize work above family, illness or their own mental health. Perhaps we’ll all be a bit better at relating to and understanding one another on the other side of this Crisis. And if that’s all we gain from this; I think it will have been worth it.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Be there and listen. A lot of people are depressed, lonely, and anxious under normal circumstances, and for many, those feelings have intensified over the past few months. Has human connection ever been so vital? Check in on your family and loved ones, let them know you care, ask about them, listen to them and love them. If you love them and you’re proud of them, don’t assume they know; tell them, and tell them often.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You cannot change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction overnight.” This year has caused many of us to pivot our lives both personally and professionally, and while we may not be able to see our destination, the most rewarding landing places are often reached by constant course corrections. And what has this year been but constant course correction?

How can our readers follow you online?

Twitter: @JennaCasonPR

Instagram: HiOakPR

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/jennacason

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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