Jennifer Mancini of Mancini Media Strategy: “Rejection is part of the gig”

Follow-through is everything. Getting business cards at events and exchanging numbers is fantastic, but if you don’t follow up shortly after, it really didn’t accomplish much. As part of my PR interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Mancini. She is the founder of Mancini Media Strategy, a boutique agency based out of […]

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Follow-through is everything. Getting business cards at events and exchanging numbers is fantastic, but if you don’t follow up shortly after, it really didn’t accomplish much.

As part of my PR interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Mancini. She is the founder of Mancini Media Strategy, a boutique agency based out of New York City. She has nearly a decade of hands-on PR experience, both agency and in-house, working with some of the world’s most influential brands, along with mid-level organizations, small business enterprises, start-ups, and entrepreneurs. She has substantial experience representing clients across numerous industries, including tech, health & wellness, finance, lifestyle, and consumer services. Jennifer has an affinity for the start-up and entrepreneurial space and has helped clients, many without any prior media coverage, acquire top tier press in some of the most coveted outlets.

Having had the invaluable experience of seeing a variety of approaches, strategies, and methodologies throughout her field, she decided to take the most successful of these practices and create an agency that collectively incorporates the best of the best.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

In my first semester of college, I had initially declared myself pre-law and was majoring in political science with coursework in bioethics and philosophy. I have always been fascinated with human behavior. I even considered psychology at one point. Between my bioethics work, my philosophy studies, and my political science classes, it always fascinated me how you could present a case study or scenario to a group of people with an established set of facts, and yet have so many different arguments as to its ethics and morality. On a day-to-day basis, we deal with people who look at the same world we do but have incredibly different interpretations of the way things are and should be, especially with issues such as politics and religion. I found myself turning into a rather passionate debater because I was always trying to find that one point, that one right line that I could say that would make the other person go “Ah, yes I get it now, you’re right, that makes sense, ok, I agree with you.” I never found it.

Eventually, I transferred schools and re-evaluated what I wanted to study. I knew I wanted to pick a major that didn’t feel like work, something that was already a part of my persona. I am the definition of an all-or-nothing person. If I don’t love what I’m doing, I won’t want to get out of bed in the morning. I’m extremely passionate, and there is no way I was going to fake liking what I do for the rest of my life just to get by. I knew I loved writing, and I loved the idea of building something of my own. I decided to major in Communications and declare a minor in Business. I had a few semesters of coursework before I needed to declare my concentration. However, as I started delving into the art of communicating, and it is an art, along with the influence of strategy, persuasion, emotion, and culture in our world, I knew I had found what finally made sense to me. My missing link in life, what I had been searching for, and what I knew I was meant to spend the rest of my life unraveling, was the art of Public Relations.

Public Relations is a combination of everything that ever interested me — law, psychology, philosophy, ethics, sociology, and economics — all balled up into two powerful words that are even more relevant in today’s society than they were when I was in college.

No matter what business you are in today, the key to success is relationships — relationships with the public, relationships with the media, relationships with your community, and relationships within your organization and employees. If there is one thing that we have learned from the digital revolution, it is that your reputation is purely dependent on what people think about you, and one person’s experience or opinion can damage the name you have spent years building for yourself, overnight.

During college, I worked in branding and event management on the side, and then landed my first internship at a Tribecca-based PR firm in Manhattan and moved to NYC on the fly. I’ve never looked back.

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

Starting my own company has been such a scary adventure — in the most exciting way. When I first started my branding, I came across a tech platform that was in the market for a publicist and I really wanted to work with them.

I reached out and landed a call with them, but then it hit me, this would be the first time pitching a potential client by myself. In my past PR experience, I had never worked in sales or client acquisition; rather, I would be assigned to client accounts as they came in. This was my first time doing the business and sales aspect, and understandably, I was nervous. But I knew, once I did this pitch solo, I would never have to do it for “the first time” again.

The call went fantastic. Right away, I knew I connected with the company founder and was aligned with their vision. Everything just flowed, and I slowly realized that I knew exactly what I was doing all along. I just had to do it to confirm this with myself. Excitingly, I did land the client and they are one of the biggest projects I am working on today.

The lesson: So often, we think that other people have something we don’t and that we aren’t enough. This is completely false. We use that limiting belief to fuel our fear and justify not putting ourselves out there and taking the first step. Everyone is human, and everyone is always learning — you just have to give yourself the chance to realize that for yourself. Be scared and do it anyway.

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?

When I was first starting, I made every mistake in the book. Looking back, I’m grateful for that though, because I learned a lot. I especially learned that when it’s down to the wire, there is not a single thing I can’t figure out how to do. That resourcefulness and confidence that, I may not know the answer now, but give me ten minutes and I’ll figure it out, however, is one of my greatest strengths in life and as a businesswoman.

I remember my first internship. I was working at a Tribecca-based PR firm and I literally had been in NYC for a day. I moved last minute from Washington, D.C., where I went to college when I landed the position and was just thrown in the concrete jungle and didn’t know anyone.

I never knew where I was going, I had no comprehension of the subway system, I was so young and just absolutely terrified. We had gotten one of the clients at the firm a lifestyle magazine placement, and I was asked to go out to the newsstand and find a copy of the magazine so we could clip their placement.

I ran around all of Tribecca and SoHo in high heels looking for this magazine, only to realize that it hadn’t hit the press yet. I spent at least three hours going to newsstand after newsstand. It was slightly embarrassing to go back to the agency and tell my boss I didn’t have the correct date for the placement, to say the least.

I think I went back to my desk, put on my sunglasses, and cried!! But this taught me an invaluable lesson — attention to detail is everything. Time is money, no matter what industry you’re in, so I learned quickly to level up and cover my bases. I can look back in confidence and say that lessons saved me from making even bigger mistakes later in my career.

Also, if you’re going to wear heels, always bring sneakers with you.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

The best part of having my own company is having the privilege to choose the clients I want to work with, it makes all the difference! I am working on something exciting with all of them.

My client, the tech platform I mentioned earlier in this interview, is getting ready to launch the world’s first and only multicultural social networking platform, with full incorporation of Community, Content, Connectivity, and Culture. It is going to be a game-changer and it could not be launching at a more necessary time.

I also have a client who works with organizations and communities to address systemic racism with a data lead approach, along with a client who is a venture capitalist and financial advisor who is trying to revolutionize financial literacy and advocate for it to start being taught at a young age.

My digital and creative marketing client is amazing as well. They are the only marketing agency I’ve come across that incorporates such a level of creativity combined with the digital aspect, and emphasize having an extremely diverse work culture that supports female and minority talent.

I am so honored to work with such amazing companies that, in addition to their work, are all looking to cultivate change and make the world a better place. That is what makes me so passionate about what I do and fuels me to always go the extra mile.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

Everything in life is about relationships — they are your greatest assets. And relationships should always be mutually beneficial for all parties involved. An important thing I learned from the last agency I was with is how approaching people with a service-based intention, rather than a transactional approach, will always get you so much further. This is so true not only in PR but in life in general. When your approach to someone is centered around your needs and what you want, you will never be as well-received as you will be when your approach is to be helpful. PR pros and journalists/reporters need each other, and there should always be mutual respect. When I pitch or reach out to contacts now, I always ask “Is there anything I can help you with?” “What are you working on right now?” and “Please let me know if we can be of any assistance.” Also, when I see an opportunity or referral that might be a good match for someone, I always send it their way. These are things that I see some of the most influential leaders in our world practice, and I try very hard to emulate that every time I can.

  1. Rejection is part of the gig. Get used to it, embrace it, and learn from it. I know it’s easier said than done, but remember, without rejection, you will never get pointed in the direction you are meant to go. We can’t see the dots connecting ahead of time, but when I look back, I realize how every “No” brought me here, right where I was meant to be.
  2. You never see the struggle behind the success. I think it’s important to remember that we never see people until they become successful. No one knew who Jeff Bezos was when he was working in his garage. No one knew who Richard Branson was when he had just a small record shop in London, and no one knew who Sara Blakely was when she was trying to scrimp together money to found Spanx. One of my favorite inspirational quotes happens to come from Taylor Swift and I repeat it in my head all the time: “Just focus on the work…Someday when you get where you’re going, you’ll look around you you’ll know that it was you and the people who love you that put you there. And that will be the greatest feeling in the world.”
  3. If you want respect, you need to learn to say “No.” I still struggle with this, I probably always will. But, setting boundaries is one of the most important and liberating things you can do in life. Saying “No” is a form of self-respect and when you don’t practice it you hurt your self-esteem by not valuing yourself. There are times when people will try to take advantage of you, ask to pay you less than your worth, have unreasonable requests, or just ask you to do something you can’t do for whatever reason. Say “No.” It doesn’t make you a bad person and you’re not letting the world down. One of the biggest mistakes I have made is overextending myself, trying to please everyone. The only result was burnout and resentment.
  4. Do one thing every day that helps someone, no matter how small it is. Of any advice I am giving in this interview, this is the most important. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded” and he is absolutely correct. Small acts of kindness, such as holding a door, helping someone carry a stroller down the subway stairs, or giving a compliment take minimal effort, but they matter so much. On your worst days, when you feel like you have failed or accomplished nothing, you will always be able to go to bed at night knowing someone breathed easier, all because of you.

You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?

Networking is the foundation of Public Relations. A few skills I’ve learned that have had a big impact on my business specifically are:

a.) Never dismiss someone as unimportant. People with real power are never the ones announcing it in the room because they don’t have to. Pre-judging someone and writing them off is not only something that can be a great disservice to your business, it also is a really poor life skill. Assume the best and find the value in everyone.

b.) Follow-through is everything. Getting business cards at events and exchanging numbers is fantastic, but if you don’t follow up shortly after, it really didn’t accomplish much.

c.) Network before you need it. This goes hand-in-hand with following through. Just because someone doesn’t happen to offer the resource you need right now, assume they will in the future and nurture the relationship.

d.) Utilize digital platforms. You can get so creative today with social media, especially LinkedIn. I recommend building up your LinkedIn profile, keeping it relevant and up to date, and reaching out to people regularly. Connect and send a DM introducing yourself and sharing what you do. Offer to set up a zoom call and have a bottle of wine delivered to them, especially right now while we’re practicing social distancing. Interact regularly. I also make it a habit to keep up with people’s posts around life events and send a quick “Congratulations!” message when they get a job promotion or share something exciting.

e.) Don’t focus on your agenda. As I mentioned earlier, taking a service-based approach will always be so much more well-received.

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

I am proud to say most of my leads come from word-of-mouth referrals. I focus on keeping my social media and my network updated as to everything I’m doing and accomplishing so that when they think of PR, they think of me.

I place great emphasis with my clients on working with a digital marketing agency that knows what they’re doing and implements keywords and SEO optimization when building their webpages. I work to make sure their target audience is defined, and our content is angled towards the news and media channels their customers consume.

Strong lead generation comes from earned media bylines and developing regular, quality, and engaging content on owned media, such as blogs, newsletters, and posts across social platforms.

Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?

The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. My brother actually teases me because he sees me with it all the time and is like “Jenn, haven’t you been reading that for years?!” Yes, I have been! If the business had a bible, this would be it. Each chapter is dedicated to a skill or strategy with historical examples of how it plays out in real life. Rule number one: Never outshine the master.

Also, anything and everything by Malcolm Gladwell. My personal two favorites of his are “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make A Big Difference,” which is centered around the sociological changes of everyday life, and “David And Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and The Art of Battling Giants. The title speaks for itself, but this book explores how adversity is actually our greatest strength in life. He is top on my list of people I would love to meet someday.

Because of the role you play, 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. 🙂

On Wednesday evenings, I teach online classes to a group of entrepreneurs and solopreneurs whose companies either aren’t ready for PR or they can’t afford full PR services yet. I basically teach them the foundations of PR and brand storytelling and give them tools they can begin utilizing on their own until they are ready for professional services. I teach them basic pitch writing, how to source contacts without expensive software, how to develop relationships with media and give them checklists to work off of.

I have seen first hand how helpful this is to small business owners who are trying to develop their brand and set themselves up for success. I think over time, the concept of PR became very jaded and developed a reputation as something only accessible to luxury brands. We need to nix this stereotype and encourage the growth of start-ups and small businesses by making as many resources available to them as possible.

Every client I have ever worked with has spent years if not decades, perfecting their craft and working to be the best at what they do and their voice deserves to be heard.

I would also love to inspire others to learn to share their vulnerability as part of their unique brand. Everyone has a story, everyone has had setbacks, and everyone has made mistakes. It’s those individual life experiences that make us who we are, teach us the lessons, and make us so resilient. I think there is still an antiquated mentality lingering in society that those things make you weak, or as I used to hear when I was younger “You don’t air your dirty laundry.”

Millennials and Gen-Zers are definitely paving the way for this change and it is invigorating to see. In Public Relations you learn how critical emotional connection is. It is the driving force behind consumer behavior. As Seth Godin said so perfectly: “People do not buy goods or services. They buy relations, stories, and magic.”

When you make the decision to spend money on a product or service, you are looking for the brand that most caters to your needs and is in line with your values or your vision. Humans operate off of a value system they have developed over time when making consumer decisions, whether they know it or not. I think the future of strong branding and storytelling will revolve around honesty and vulnerability. No one can truly connect with the people that need their help if they can’t shed their skin and share how they got to where they are.

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