Hopefully, I will never get to the point where I feel I’m done. I hope I will continue to reach higher, set new goals for myself and for the team I work with.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry. I had the pleasure of interviewing Pernille Kjeldsen.
Pernille was born and raised in Denmark, but a lifelong desire for travel and adventure made her leave her job, friends, and family behind to pursue her dreams in Los Angeles. Despite not knowing anyone in LA or having a concrete plan, Pernille was determined to build her life and career. With a Master’s degree in Communication and experience from the art world, she met her employer quickly after moving here. Life as a PR Director for a contemporary artist is very challenging. It often calls for long days with an intense workload, however, it has given Pernille freedom to grow and accomplish more in life in the last five years by living in LA.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I studied for my Master’s in Communication in Denmark and knew that PR was the path I wanted to follow after graduating. I was offered an internship at the art gallery The Hole in New York and didn’t think twice before I was on the plane to the Big Apple. This was my first opportunity in the art world. I knew nothing at all, but I was intrigued and fascinated about this sophisticated world. It’s funny how opportunities open up and take you on a whole different path in life. This was definitely meant to be — art is my drug and my passion.
While living in New York, I visited LA and it was love at first sight. I’m such an outdoor person and I’m so drawn to all the outdoor activities here with the most amazing nature and weather.
I returned to Denmark to finish my Master’s and hadn’t even graduated before I was offered a great position as the PR Manager for a global fashion brand. I spend the next year gaining experience while planning my next steps towards moving to LA. I couldn’t leave the dream behind. I constantly had this thought in my head, “what if LA is everything you think it is and you belong there.” I knew I had to try it out, so the time came where I quit my job, left my apartment, and embarked on this adventure. The majority of my friends and family were fairly concerned on my behalf. Without saying it, I could sense they thought I was naïve for doing this without a more solid plan.
I know I’m very much a dreamer and I often refuse to see the more practical side of things, which might be the reason I easily do things others never would. The risks, to me, never outweigh the potential for happiness and fulfillment. I had a strong intuition that things would work in my favor, and luckily it did. I met my current employer at a pool party right after moving here. I know… very LA… and almost exactly as I dreamed in Denmark. It was the perfect timing, and I’ve been with the team ever since. It has been the best decision of my life.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
I have always done things my own way and tend to follow my heart more than my mind. I don’t care about best practices or what books tell you to do. I go my own way. Luckily I work with a team that has the same spirit. We’ve done things in unorthodox ways. For example, a few years ago, we organized the biggest art show ever seen in Copenhagen with just our little team — no outside help from galleries whatsoever. It was a new model that proved to be stunningly successful. I have been fortunate enough to work with a team that allows me to set high goals and pursue them, which has resulted in projects that most people wouldn’t have thought possible for us.
What sets me apart from many people here in LA is my Scandinavian mentality. I often hear from people that we are very genuine and sincere, which is a huge benefit in PR and business in general. People trust you. I think I’ve combined the best of the Danish values with the best of LA mentality and created a very unique combination.
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?
I feel I have made a lot of funny mistakes or ended up in awkward situations. One thing that has caused many laughs and makes my face turn red is the language barrier. I have said so many expressions in a Danish/English way that was totally misunderstood by whomever I was talking with. I might be slightly naïve and, as the only female on my team, I often end up being the one they try to fool — not with evil intentions, but because they know how easy they can lead me on with something. If I can cause others to smile, I’m okay with it.
It’s hard for me to recall one mistake, in particular, that was really funny. I feel there have been so many mistakes over the years from not knowing better. Luckily I see every mistake as a chance to learn something new and become wiser so I don’t repeat the same mistake twice. Organizing is a big part of my job, so there have definitely been many times organizing huge events where things went wrong because I had forgotten parts of the planning.
At my first job as a PR Manager back in Denmark, we organized a huge international press conference for a new fashion line made by actor Antonio Banderas. Magazines flew in from all over the world to spend 15 minutes with Mr. Zorro himself. Everything was planned down to the last detail at this amazing London hotel. In hindsight, having a tight time schedule without much space assumes that everything will go exactly to plan. It’s not my strong side to always be an enforcer, and I felt bad every time I had to cut in the middle of an interview because time was up. We ended up working overtime for many hours, but luckily Banderas and his team were very easygoing and cooperative.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I, in particular, have two people I look up to very much and that I know always have my back no matter what. First is the Danish art collector, Jens Peter Brask, who is the reason I ended up in the art world in the first place. He has an incredible network worldwide and he made the connection to the gallery in New York, which I’m forever grateful for. Throughout the years, he has taught me so much about art and about how the industry works. My favorite thing is that every time he visits LA, he takes me to the studios of all these famous artists. It’s always such a memorable adventure when it happens.
The second person that has a very special place in my heart is the very first manager I had after finishing my Master’s in Denmark. I was hired for this incredible job at a fashion company where I was the PA for the Marketing Manager. We quickly became very close. She is one of the most talented leaders I have ever met. So charismatic and empathetic. She taught me so much about business, and every time I have an issue, I know I can reach out to her. She’s always here with good advice. Both of them care deeply about me and my endeavors here on the other side of the earth, which I’m really grateful for.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
It’s a positive thing as long as you bring something new to the table and you try to change it for the better. It all comes down to your intentions. Are they good or bad? Do you do it because of a strong desire and passion to create something special, or because you want to see other people fail? It’s a fine balance because disrupting an industry can often have a huge impact on other people, which might be negative (ie. they lose their job, money, clients, etc.) I see it a bit as ‘survival of the fittest — you have to stay on top of your game and constantly develop yourself to keep up with the ever-changing landscape.
I have never felt a stronger competition than here in LA, which I believe stems from the fact that people move here from all over the world with a strong belief that they can make it in whatever industry they’re in. It’s people with the same mindset about never giving up, but fighting to the end. It both keeps you on your toes and makes you work even harder to stand out and disrupt your industry in any sense, but it also makes you work nonstop. I don’t have a good work-life balance myself. I am, in some ways, always working, which sometimes makes me question how long I can continue like this. But at the same time, I love what I do. I have met so many amazing people along the way and see my work as my passion. Honestly, I can’t picture my life any different.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
My mom taught me to be brave and follow my heart no matter what people would say or think. I wish she was still here today to see how far I’ve come and how her wisdom imparted in me as a young girl has taken me places all over the world. She is a huge factor in that, because of her, I’ve dared to face my fears and take some major decisions without looking back. The biggest risk was to move to LA without anything and start from scratch to build the life I wanted. I remember right after college I told her I wanted to travel to Spain as a tour guide. She smiled in a way I rarely saw and said that it was the best decision I could make and that she wished she had done the same when she was young. Since then, every time I travel, I know it’s both for myself and for my mom. It gives me a feeling of being closer to her.
The last advice I want to mention is actually one my very close friend mentioned not long ago. Now to preface, I have always felt that things happen for a reason. Earlier in life, I focused too much on always trying to figure out what things meant, and then blindly follow it. An incident would happen and I would immediately try to find the deeper meaning behind it. I was so blindly focused on reacting that I would shut things down in my life that I loved. She made me stop and question what it was I was about to do. She would ask, “Why let one incident decide my next moves?” I realized that I have the freedom to choose for myself and not react so much to issues that had already happened. It was a game-changer for my mindset and I’ve since then turned even more into being the creator of my own life.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
Hopefully, I will never get to the point where I feel I’m done. I hope I will continue to reach higher, set new goals for myself and for the team I work with. I want to make a name out of myself in the art world. I want to earn people’s respect for the work I’m creating and for people to perceive me as a very smart and emphatic woman. To inspire and motivate others. I feel I’m still learning every day still and the personal journey I’ve been on the last couple of years is massive compared to earlier in my life when I still lived in Denmark. My mindset and horizon completely changed by moving here.
We have huge projects coming up that I cannot tell too much about yet, but it’s something that hopefully will make me advance in my career. On a personal plan, I have a huge interest in empowering women in the art world. Both when it comes to artists, gallery owners, dealers, curators, etc. I want to be a part of the change and make the industry more equal.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I often feel we have to prove ourselves much more than men. That our starting point is way behind theirs and it takes more to earn respect. I feel it happens often in the art world — it’s still an industry dominated by men. I still feel there’s some kind of challenge for any female disruptors not to be perceived negatively. I often sense people are thinking “who does she think she is” whereas men are more often perceived as great inspirations. I see an inequality here between the sexes. I see a huge difference between Denmark and LA on this topic. Denmark has a higher standard for equality compared to the US and women luckily don’t have to prove themselves as much as I feel women have to here. It’s more accepted to speak up as a woman and stick to your values and beliefs. With the current equality movement in most industries, we can only hope that the change will happen sooner than later.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
I love reading and I listen to podcasts daily on my morning run and walk. This is the way I keep my mind continuously growing and expanding. However, I have a slightly different story I would like to tell. After college, I went on a month-long education in Spain to obtain a license to be a travel guide. One of our teachers was a psychologist, and I remember him having a huge impact on me. He managed to speak to my soul and he could read me as an open book. One of the first sessions we had with him was about how life always turns out in ways you least expect it and that we should never take anything for granted. It was probably my first meeting with mindfulness and the awareness about being present. Some of the other students openly shared some devastating life events that had changed their life and how they had moved on. I clearly remember how I almost felt guilty about my own life, coming from a healthy, loving family with a mom, dad, and two sisters. It was almost too perfect compared to what others had gone through. Three months after this episode my own mom suddenly got very sick and passed away, which was the hardest thing I’ve experienced in my life. It really opened my eyes to how fast your life can change and his words about never taking anything for granted have been with me ever since.
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. 🙂
Through my job, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the biggest international charity organizations, all focused on climate change and primarily ocean conservation. We have organized projects with both The Lonely Whale Foundation and The Perfect World Foundation where we donated all revenue coming in from the artworks. Projects like these, with a deeper purpose and a meaningful message, are truly what I love the most to engage within my work. If you can reach people and affect them positively in any way, then I feel fulfilled. I often use the word “artwareness”, meaning that you, as an artist, through your art can bring awareness to a cause you believe in. So my cause would be ocean conservation. Save the oceans and all the lives living there. Help minimize plastic pollution.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I know this might be very standard, but I try to live after the mantra: “You only regret the things you didn’t do”. This, again, also points back to my childhood and my mom. I have always done what my heart told me to do and it has brought me places and given me opportunities I could never have imagined.
How can our readers follow you online?
They’re more than welcome to follow along on my Instagram @pernille_k
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!