I had the pleasure of interviewing Jamie Prince, the founder and principal of flourish. Jamie’s been in the business of telling her clients’ stories in powerful ways for more than fifteen years. In 2017, the Public Relations Society of America recognized her as the PR Practitioner of the Year in South Carolina. She owns and runs flourish, a marketing, public relations and corporate events firm based in Greenville, South Carolina. Jamie leads a team of 14 professionals, who, together, have won more than 60 international, national and local awards for their client work. She started flourish in the depths of the Great Depression and is proud to be celebrating the firm’s 10th Anniversary in 2019.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Coming out of college, I earned a scholarship to law school in New York. I packed up my little life at the time, moved to the city, and found myself miserable in the pursuit of law. I stepped back from it all, in what John Mayer best described as a “quarter life crisis,” and realized that I yearned to do what I loved, which was communicating creatively. I returned my scholarship to the school, and within two weeks, was on my way, beating down doors until someone let me in. And they did!
Fast forward six years. I hit a ceiling in my corporate communications position, and had just had my first child. I also needed a solution to crazy work weeks and long commutes as I started a family. I had some dear friends break out on their own at the time, and their bravery as well as my husband’s faith and initial funding gave me the courage I needed to take a risk. So I did! That’s how flourish was born.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
That’s truly tough. But a wonderful thing happened just this past May. Our firm produces an international cycling event called The Assault on Mt. Mitchell. It’s known for how difficult it is and is aptly nicknamed “the Beast of the East.” The finish line is located at the summit of Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak in the Eastern United States, and for the riders who make it the 102 miles to cross the finish, they rightly check this off their cycling bucket list.
My job on “ride day” is to stand at the finish line and make sure everything goes off smoothly as riders cross. This year, I was standing at the finish line to see my husband cross. It was such a feat for him, and it was a special moment to share with him.
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?
It wasn’t funny, but it was the worst mistake I’ve ever made professionally. In Year One of flourish, when the company consisted of only myself, I flew a client to California by herself for a high-profile media interview. She didn’t have the budget for me to fly with her, so I stayed behind and just “coached her from afar.” I misunderstood from the producer that my client could tape her segment using talking points on notecards. I never knew they were going to allow only one, single take.
She was already a nervous type, and when the producer told her to ditch the note cards, she nearly had an anxiety attack on the spot. Totally my fault — all of it. Lessons learned: Get every single speck of detail you can ahead of a client interview (or media piece period), and be with the client for the interview. I not only damaged my relationship with my client, but with the producer, too.
I can still remember where I was on the street when I received her call, and the pit in my stomach. It’s those mistakes that stay with you, and cause you to grow up overnight.
How did you scale your business to profitability? How long did it take? Please share the steps you took.
Hiring the very first person on payroll, which happened in Year Two of flourish, was terribly difficult for me, because I knew that I was responsible for someone other than myself. The formula we used was and still is relatively simple. We have a ratio that we use where we look at the bandwidth of each person’s billable hours across clients, and estimate the effect of new business coming in. There is a tipping point where you need to hire up in order for your client service to be maintained. We also look at total expense to run the business each year to calculate our billable rates, and purposefully keep our overhead as low as possible, so that our rates stay as competitive as possible. For any piece of new business we’re earning, we’ve developed a detailed spreadsheet with formulas that helps us calculate the profitability of that piece of business based on the scope of work and “team time” required to meet the client’s objectives.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I became unusually sick three years ago, and we discovered through a trip to the Mayo Clinic that it was a complex brain issue traced to a traumatic brain injury from a car accident I had had years prior. Our newest client at flourish is the Brain Injury Association of South Carolina. It’s awesome to work on raising awareness for an organization that has a personal connection to my own life.
Additionally, we, like everyone else, are pushing the envelope on digital tactics for our clients, to put them closer to their audiences. Some of the data coming out of that work is fascinating to me. I was always a math lover in school, so it’s finally made it’s way back into creative life for me! An example of how we use digital is geo-fencing. Recently, we drew a geo-fence around a large, multi-day festival and served up invitations to all of those folks to attend an event one of our clients was throwing only a couple of miles away. It’s stuff like that that makes me get out of bed every day.
Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?
First, be prepared for trial by fire, for making mistakes, and for hearing no or receiving no response. Those are normal (failure is normal) and are the way that leads to doing better each day.
And, secondly, be real. Please, no jib-jab emails with formalities that make you seem like a robot. Remember that there is a way to talk with people that works. It’s called conversation.
Finally, there is truly no substitution for face-to-face conversations and phone calls. While there’s a time and a place for texting, building a professional relationship with someone isn’t one of those times.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
Active listening. Bar none — THE number one way to gain a new friend on any level. People so desire to be heard and understood. If you take the time to learn about them, it is rewarding to you and to them. Win/win.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I just finished two books that I’d tell anyone — no matter the industry — to invest in reading immediately: The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks and Dare to Lead by Brene Brown.
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. 🙂
This is deeply personal for me, but I believe that with the intensity of anger, hatred, greed, and violence in America right now, many of us fail to realize that transformational change is possible — for a person, for a community, and for our nation — at the soul level, through intentional prayer. It may sound too simple to be true; however, so are some of the laws of physics. The more one learns about the power of prayer, and practices those lessons, the more change happens before our eyes. It’s amazing. The cure for our world is within us. A book I would suggest to anyone who is curious or cares to start is Healing by Francis MacNutt, PhD.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
- PR is both a marathon and a sprint. It takes time to build the kind of relationships that translate into results, and refine the skillsets you need to be truly good at this profession. At the same time, no matter how long you’ve been in this business, some things never change — like how quickly a media source expects the information they request.
- When in doubt, ASK. So much is on the line, many times, when you are representing someone else’s reputation and business. Pause and ask someone more senior than you if you hesitate knowing if something is accurate or ethical.
- Our time is valuable, too. This one took me quite a while before I allowed myself to acknowledge that, hey!, my collection of abilities and the results I have to show for them are worth something. That counts. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, and begin treating your calendar, and yourself, with higher dignity.
- It takes much more to run a business than good pitching. Ten years into flourish, I’m challenged to re-prioritize all the time so that I can stick to what I’m good at. A lot of running a successful business is surrounding yourself with people who know the areas that you don’t. My husband is our Chief Operating Officer and handles our billings, for example. The times when our business was the weakest, I look back at what we were all doing, and see that I was letting myself be pulled in a bunch of directions that weren’t my core strength.
- Invest in yourself. Have someone you can talk to. Or multiple people, preferably, outside your company, both on the peer and mentor levels. I have a group of close peers that I go away with once or twice a year. Nearly all of us are independent business owners now, so the conversations are incredibly nourishing to me. I have a mentor who is in my industry. She applauds me when I’m excelling, and I trust her to peek behind the curtain and tell me the stuff she sees that concerns her. And I have a business coach. She helps me stay true to myself and nudges me forward with grace.