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“I am genuinely passionate about the fact that businesses can be big and profitable without being ‘bad’ businesses,” says Jennifer Janson, owner of PR agency Six Degrees and author of The Reputation Playbook, as she describes why she is drawn to working in reputation management.
She adds: “I think people reward great business behaviour with their custom. Of course that’s a sweeping generalisation, and some may call me naïve, but it’s what we try to do with every business we work with.”
Janson began her career as an intern at PR firm Ruder Finn in New York, and while there was given the opportunity to work directly for the president of the company, then Amy Binder, which she says “opened all sorts of doors” for her.
Since then Janson’s career has gone from strength to strength, although not always in the direction she expected: “I definitely didn’t start out planning to be where I am today. Once I decided that I liked the whole PR thing I had my eyes set firmly on a senior role within a big multinational company. I saw it as a route to getting operational experience and ultimately running a very large business. But fate had other plans in store for me.”
“Having moved to the UK in 1997 to work for a medium-sized agency (that was then called Roger Staton Associates) for what I thought would be two years, I ended up staying for 10, and then doing a management buyout with my partner. We’ve been called Six Degrees since 2005. I never, ever saw myself as a small business owner, but now I wouldn’t go back. My career’s also had some unexpected developments – we’ve recently launched a new business to help drive positive culture in the workplace, through reading. It’s called My Business Book Club and it’s proving hugely popular.”
From working in agencies, Janson has learnt that it is unproductive to worry about another type of agency muscling in on your business, she advises other agency PROs to: “Stop being paranoid about other agencies ‘eating your lunch’. If you think about yourself as the custodian of a brand’s reputation then you stop worrying about whether you have enough people who know how to ‘do SEO’ or ‘content marketing’ and start thinking about simply doing what’s right for the business."
Janson also has some advice for those who work in-house: “I’d say don’t be afraid to push back if you are being pigeon-holed as the communicator who simply does what you’re told. It is your role to challenge the business to ensure that the behaviour being exhibited by the company is aligned with the messages you are being asked to communicate.”
Running an agency, amongst other endeavours, as well as being a mother of three, means that Janson cannot have much spare time. Yet she has written The Reputation Playbook, recently published by Harriman House, about protecting corporate reputation in the digital economy. When asked how she managed to fit this in, Janson says: “It wasn’t easy, but in a funny way, it was exactly what the agency needed to thrive. I was forced to get out of peoples’ way and let them take responsibility for delivering outstanding work. And they have surpassed all expectations.”
“I am still very involved in the strategic direction of the business, and I work with clients where I’m needed, but we simply have an outstanding team. You’ll often hear me saying that I would enthusiastically re-hire every person on our team tomorrow. I feel very lucky to be able to say that.”
Janson says she was inspired to write the book for two reasons: “First, we were encountering communications experts who truly understood the value of social media and the potential impact on corporate reputation, but weren’t getting heard by the upper echelons within the business. And I wanted to help. We were also speaking to a lot of CEOs who thought they had ‘that social media thing’ covered because they had a smart intern running a Twitter feed – and that made me nervous. And it helped that I have a long-term mentor from the publishing world who gently encouraged me to consider writing the book. Knowing his pedigree, I took that encouragement very seriously.”
Jennifer Janson, owner of PR agency Six Degrees and author of The Reputation Playbook
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