I truly believe that a remote work environment helps people work more efficiently. There are fewer interruptions than in a traditional office environment, and everyone has the freedom to set up their own schedules in the most productive way for them.
As a part of our series about the things you need to successfully work remotely, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Berson.
Jen is the President and Founder of Jeneration PR, an award-winning public relations & creative content marketing firm specializing in promoting beauty, baby & lifestyle brands, as well as Profitable PR Pros, an online educational platform for PR agency owners that includes courses, resources, and the Profitable PR Pros Facebook community. Prior to founding Jeneration PR in 2005, Jen was a civil litigation attorney in Los Angeles.
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. What is your “backstory”?
I actually started my career practicing law for 4 years. PR was not even on my radar! I discovered a fragrance company in Europe on my Bar trip and loved it so much that, when I ran out, I actually reached out to the company to purchase more because it was so hard to find in the US. The founder of that company personally thanked me for my order, and we formed an instant connection!
I started to realize that this brand was so beautiful and visually appealing, but had no meaningful retail presence or consumer demand here in the States. So I offered to help them create that presence. I asked her to send me a big box of products — perfume, body lotion, bar soap — and offered to help get the products to celebrities and featured in the media. I couldn’t believe she’d send a stranger on the internet so much free stuff, but she actually went for it!
At the time, I didn’t even realize what this service was (or that someone could charge for it!), but I landed a print placement in US Weekly and it immediately started to drive sales and retail inquiries for this company. I was amazed that it had such an immediate, significant impact on them. It was a tangible result (one that I could physically hold in my hands!) that positively impacted a business I loved and believed in.
Being able to support brands and entrepreneurs in this way was kind of addicting — it felt amazing! In my career as a litigator, everything was about tearing companies down through protracted and costly litigation. I much preferred building up businesses and experiencing impactful results almost instantly.
At the time, I was doing it for free, but I couldn’t help but think “If I was getting paid for this, it would be my dream career!” So in 2005, I took a chance and left my career in law to start my own PR agency — and I’ve never looked back.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The most interesting thing that has happened to me since starting my company actually began from just a simple conversation. One day, I connected with an old friend from law school over Facebook. This guy was at the top of our class and everyone really looked up to him — I wasn’t shocked to learn that he’d ended up landing an extremely high-profile job in corporate law for Apple. As we were chatting, I was actually kind of embarrassed to tell him that I’d left law, since he had become so successful… but he was totally blown away and impressed by the fact that I’d started my own business. Speaking to someone who’s in such a senior position and seeing him be so supportive of my career was really surprising!
Honestly, I thought that he was just being polite. But the next day, he sent me an email letting me know that he’d had a conversation with the head of Apple Global Brand Positioning about me (about ME?!), my agency, and how I use Apple products to run my business as a busy entrepreneur on the go… and they wanted to feature me on their website! I couldn’t believe it.
The next thing I know, they scheduled a two-day shoot with a photographer and crew from Apple’s marketing team, followed me around LA, and created a beautiful video and brand profile on me and Jeneration PR that lived on the Apple website for over five years. I was featured alongside huge companies like Nike and Nestle, which seriously boosted my credibility and led to a ton of new business inquiries. And it all started from a conversation where I just shared what I do and how much I love my business. My PR agency really took off from there, and that just goes to show the power of sharing what you’re passionate about with others.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Oh, I have the perfect story for this. It’s funny now, but at the time, I couldn’t have been more embarrassed! I was running my very first major event for my PR agency, a runway show for a fashion brand I was representing. I was still pretty new at PR, and honestly, I was in just a bit over my head.
The event was filled with celebrities and photographers, and in the eyes of the client and all of the attendees, it was an amazing success. Everyone had a great time and it even got picked up by news outlets, which was a huge win for me!
But behind the scenes, I felt like a hot mess the whole time. Since this was my first major event, I had NO idea how much would need to be done. I needed to take care of everything, from getting everyone checked in to make sure they were on the list, working the red carpet, assigning VIPs to their tables, and handing out gift bags. It felt so chaotic, and for me, that was a total nightmare.
Somehow, the event still managed to be a success. But then, I unintentionally insulted an Oscar-winning actress, which turned out to be one of the most embarrassing moments of my whole life. Next door to our event venue, there was a Dancing With the Stars event happening, so there was some crossover between our guests and theirs.
That year, Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin, who happens to be hearing-impaired, was on Dancing With the Stars, so she was trying to get to their event. But she ended up trying to check-in at the event I was running. I tried my very best to point her towards the other event since I don’t know sign language, but she misunderstood and thought I was telling her she wasn’t welcome!
This was bad enough… but then, she looked at me and yelled “I’M DEAF! I CAN’T UNDERSTAND YOU!” It was so embarrassing, and I felt horrible! If I could’ve curled up and hidden under a rock for the rest of the night, I would’ve done it. But my event and the 1,000 guests needed me.
Now, years later, it’s almost funny (almost!) but I did learn a great lesson that you should do what you truly love. I learned for sure what I don’t love to do — for me, events are just overwhelming, and that’s okay! Everyone has different strengths, and after running that hot mess of an event (even though from the outside, it was 100% successful!) I realized that event management is not one of my passions. My husband still makes fun of me for insulting Marlee Matlin to this day!
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees thrive and avoid burnout?
I believe that all business leaders should set and enforce really clear boundaries in order to help their employees thrive. A good leader supports the people around them, so anything you can do to ensure your employees know that you have their backs helps them feel good about themselves and the work they’re doing!
Clear communication makes a world of difference in helping your employees (and you!) to avoid burnout. Business leaders need to help their teams develop independence with their schedules, and clear boundaries really help with this. Streamlining communication in your business is essential to helping your employees feel like their time is valued. Plus, it helps them learn to prioritize what really matters to move the needle forward on the projects that matter most.
On that same note, no one likes to be micromanaged. When you’ve hired someone, you’ve done so based on their experience and what they bring to the table. You have to give them a chance to shine without being micromanaged! Sometimes, this does mean letting people make mistakes — but you can support them and help them maximize that experience as a learning opportunity.
Part of being a great leader is being supportive, which means you succeed as a team (and work together to overcome obstacles as a team, too!). That’s probably one of the biggest pieces of advice I can give — support your team from the top-down, and acknowledge all contributions and successes, and stand with them when they make mistakes.
Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits and opportunities of working remotely?
Working remotely is definitely different, but in my experience, it’s absolutely amazing! I’ve actually been running my PR agency from home (with an entirely remote team) for over 16 years. Remote work lets me work with people around the world, meaning I can find the very best people for my team and what we do, and not be constrained by their physical location.
Plus, I truly believe that a remote work environment helps people work more efficiently. There are fewer interruptions than in a traditional office environment, and everyone has the freedom to set up their own schedules in the most productive way for them.
Personally, I wanted my business to be remote because it gives me complete flexibility with my day. This makes me (and my team) feel so much more successful and at ease on a daily basis. Of course, it has its challenges, too. But for my business, remote work not only boosts productivity but also helps people feel a better work-life integration and happier work environment!
Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding working remotely?
One challenge that’s been especially relevant during the last year is staying connected. Obviously, when you aren’t working in a physical location with your whole team, it can be a bit challenging to stay connected.
And part of that is due to another challenge: time zones. Whether it’s your team or your clients, when you work remotely, you’re going to have to schedule meetings and other communications with time zone differences in mind.
Communication itself is actually a challenge with remote work, too. Since most of your communication with your team (and your clients) will be through written messages like email, it’s easy for things to get lost in translation or to come across the wrong way. That’s why a good leader has to be an effective communicator, especially when working with a team remotely.
Just like a good leader has to be a good communicator, you have to help your team members create boundaries. Availability is another challenge with remote work. Because your team (and you!) aren’t commuting to a space with set hours, it’s easy to get swept up in work and feel like you have to be available at all times. To avoid added stress on everyone, keep this challenge in mind and work to create manageable expectations with clients and the team!
The final challenge that I’d highlight for remote work is client interactions. In a traditional work environment, you’d likely have many more face-to-face interactions with your clients and prospective clients. When you serve clients remotely, you may have to work harder to demonstrate how qualified you are and it may be more difficult to really get to know them on the level that you need to. We’ve been planning more meetings with clients over Zoom, and trying to keep things light & upbeat so we can set the tone for our meetings to feel positive & productive. It’s important to learn how to overcome or adapt to these challenges if you want to have successful working relationships.
Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? Can you give a story or example for each?
It’s actually really simple to stay connected with a remote team when you’re willing to put in a little extra effort! Personally, our team has developed a lot of ways to stay in touch throughout the day. We use tools like Slack to message each other, which has worked really well for us. One thing I suggest here is to set a light, the warm, and friendly tone when you’re communicating with your team. This helps make sure there aren’t as many miscommunications due to the lack of a face-to-face work environment. You can also find ways to stay connected virtually and foster a positive team dynamic, like setting up a weekly virtual happy hour (where you don’t talk about work!).
To address different time zone challenges, I recommend picking one main time zone for your scheduling purposes. Basically, set all of your times within that time zone to avoid confusion. You could go with the client’s timezone or always stick with the time zone where your company is based. Remember to also look for “sweet spots” when scheduling meetings that coincide well with everyone’s time zone. Remote work just requires a little extra thought when it comes to scheduling — no one wants to end up in a super late meeting at the end of the day!
Communication challenges are something you’ll definitely learn to overcome with practice. Based on my experience, the best thing you can do here is make communication fun and friendly! I’ve developed inside jokes with my team and worked really hard to foster a warm, enjoyable working environment, even though everyone works from home.
Similarly, you’ll need to respect your team members’ time. You shouldn’t expect constant availability from your team members, just like you wouldn’t in a physical office setting! Respect is key here. Make sure to set clear expectations for availability and a reasonable response time, but from there, let your team members be independent and have the freedom to set their own schedules. I try not to message my team members outside of our regular work hours unless it’s absolutely necessary, and if I do, I don’t expect an instant response.
Finally, for challenges working with clients, you’re going to need to get personal as much as you can while still being professional. Client challenges in remote work are actually all about balance. Help your clients feel like they are a priority to you, even though everything is digital. When you run meetings with clients, try to be friendly and open while respecting their time. Especially when you work from home, it’s easy to feel like you have to work harder to prove yourself. This really is a mindset thing, though, so don’t let it get to your head. Your location has nothing to do with the quality and value of the services you provide — plus, you’re actually saving clients money since you aren’t factoring in the expense of a brick-and-mortar location into their rate!
Although there are certainly some challenges when working remotely, a few simple mindset shifts and a little thoughtfulness make them easy to overcome.
Do you have any suggestions specifically for people who work at home? What are a few ways to be most productive when you work at home?
When you work at home, it’s really important to set up a dedicated workspace and schedule for yourself. When your office is in your house, it’s easy to get sucked into working all of the time, so it’s important to actively separate the different areas of your life in order to successfully integrate them. Setting really specific, clear boundaries between your work life and personal life will help you feel happier and more creative. You’ll be more productive and able to feel a sense of balance (and you’ll avoid the dreaded burnout).
Part of setting those clear boundaries is having a dedicated workspace. If your environment serves you well, you’ll be able to focus better and be productive even while working from home. If you can, work somewhere with natural light, and try to keep your space organized. These small adjustments will help you feel more energized throughout the day!
Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic? Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?
If you’re used to working with your team in person, the biggest thing to focus on is social interaction and collaboration! That’s one thing that can fall through the cracks when transitioning to remote work. Especially if you’re a social person who craves that interaction at work, you’ll need to make an active effort when working remotely to feel that sense of community and avoid feeling isolated.
Having a community when you’re working remotely is amazing — you can connect, get feedback and support, and feel like a part of something social again. That’s exactly why I created Profitable PR Pros! Everyone in the group can avoid those feelings of isolation, get support from peers, and collaborate together.
What do you suggest can be done to create an empowering work culture and team culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?
If you want your team to feel empowered when working remotely, you have to give them autonomy. Of course, there are tools and techniques that allow you to micromanage even from different locations. But people want to feel trusted and valuable! You need to trust your team to do what you hired them for and give them the space to do their jobs.
When you help people feel empowered through independence, they’ll be happier working for you, and in turn, will be more productive and create better quality work! It’s one of the advantages of remote work, so be sure to empower your team by giving them flexibility and freedom in their daily work routines at home.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Creating a movement where women feel empowered to take on both sides of their dreams, the personal and the professional, would be incredible. In my own life, being able to have the best of both worlds has been amazing.
But so many women feel like they have to choose between motherhood and a career. That’s why my dream movement is all about showing people that you can find success in both your personal and professional life.
You can run a business that serves the kind of life that you want to have. You can create the work-life integration that you’re seeking. You can be a profitable CEO and an involved PTA member. And you can make great money while still being in control of your time as a present and checked-in parent.
When we give moms access to a strategy that helps them build a career where they can find fulfillment and still embrace motherhood, we alleviate this weird dynamic that forces women to choose. I’ve seen firsthand that it’s totally possible to have both, and I’d love to show other women how to do the same thing for themselves. THIS is the movement that I am working so hard to inspire!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is from Warren Buffett! He says, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.”
In your business (and your life!), making key decisions is what leads you to success. Running my own business has been incredibly rewarding, but one thing that has helped me feel successful is having a super clear, aligned vision based on my values. That quote reflects how important it is to get clarity on those things. When you know that something isn’t right for you, having a clear vision makes it easy to say no.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can learn more by visiting my website at https://www.profitableprpros.com!
Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success