BABE #167: JESSICA BECKER, Director of U.S. & Canada, Manifest Group
As Director of U.S. & Canada for Manifest Group, today's babe is a PR maven responsible for developing brand strategies, assisting with HR and career development, overseeing any and all campaigns, and driving agency growth across the marketing spectrum. In today's interview, she shares an inside look into the world of public relations (spoiler: it isn’t all glitzy parties and champagne swigging), how her move from the United Kingdom to New York shaped her career, and a (hilariously awkward) “oops” moment that any social media babe can learn from and/or relate to.
Hometown: Nottingham, UK, but I lived in London for eight years and feel like a Londoner at heart.
Current city: Brooklyn, New York
Alma mater: University of Leeds
Degree: B.A., Communication Studies
Very first job: Sunday morning paper-delivery girl
Hustle: Director of U.S. & Canada, Manifest Group
Babe you admire and why?
Can I change it to babes, plural? I am so lucky to have the most amazing group of babes back in London who inspire me every single day. There’s 9 of our “Winterbreakers” crew (literally no idea where that name came from) and they’re the most hard-working, caring and badass bunch I’ve ever met. They keep me sane and happy even across timezones and oceans.
How do you spend your ‘free’ time?
I’m relatively new to New York and still in complete awe of the city, which I hope is something that never goes away. So, a lot of my free time is spent exploring, usually on my bike, which gives you a whole different perspective and understanding of the city. Also, I like eating. And drinking. But mostly eating.
Favorite app, website or blog?
I’m an Instagram addict. I may not post much but I’m always there, always watching.
Go-to adult beverage?
Depends on the level of drunk I want to get. Dark rum and ginger beer with a chunk of fresh lime is my current go-to.
Go-to power anthem?
Soooo many. I love Helen Reddy’s ‘I Am Woman’. I actually have part of it tattooed on me. Although the Sex and The City film kind of ruined it…
What would you eat for your very last meal?
I’d probably just stick a spoon into a jar of Nutella. That’d be a good way to go.
Tell us about your hustle, providing an overview of your job and roles.
I’m the Director of U.S. and Canada at Manifest New York, based in DUMBO, Brooklyn. We’re a creative comms agency covering everything across the marketing spectrum - from brand strategy and PR, to social media and influencer relations. We don’t work with just any brands, rather, we seek out people that want to change the world in a positive way. This could be a brand like BrewDog, who aims to make everyone as passionate about craft beer as they are, or premium sex toy company Hot Octopuss, whose mission is to break down the stigmas attached to sex and masturbation. These brands are helping to make the world a better place in one way or another, and that’s what drives and excites us. My role is to oversee our New York squad of 10 and expand the business further. I lead on the strategy and support our amazing team to help make shit happen. On the business side of things, I do everything from HR and career development, to recruitment, internal PR and new business. I’m a mean tea maker too.
What does your typical workday look like? What are the various ‘hats’ that you wear throughout the day?
In the 10 years since I’ve been in the game, no two days are the same. I think that’s key for me as I’m the type of person that gets bored fast. I need max-level variety to keep me going. The industry itself has changed completely since I started working. Believe it or not, there was a time when social media wasn’t even a thing. On the most typical day, we catch-up on priorities and the progress of our campaigns that are currently live. Then, it’ll be a series of meetings with clients, new business potentials and team members. A big focus for me is helping the team achieve their dream careers. At Manifest, we understand that not everyone has to fall into a traditional PR role. Instead, we try to build careers around people’s skill sets and interests, whether its strategic creative thinking, poetic copywriting, client management, pitching, event planning, photoshoot execution, analytics, production, social media, branding and more. At present, we’re building out our influencer relations program by empowering two of our team members who are interested in this vertical to grow the division.
How has your relocation to NYC impacted your career, and what advice do you have for fellow babes looking to make the big move?
Jeez. Where to start. I’ve learnt more about my career and myself in the last year than any other year. There is no training that would have prepared me for this role or for running a business. It’s literally been about getting dropped in and doing it live, fucking up a few times and then celebrating the good moments. I’ve been forced to have confidence in myself and when I don’t, as least trying to sound like I do. The move to New York City was by no means easy. I had an eight-month countdown where every single day I was like WTF am I doing. I nearly bailed out a few times but my friends wouldn’t let me miss this opportunity. I’m so glad they didn’t because it really was the best decision I’ve ever made. It hasn’t been smooth sailing the whole time I’ve been here, but it’s been a barrage of amazing life and learning experiences. My advice for anyone else looking to make the move? If you’re a Brit like me and you actually have an opportunity to do it legit - VISAs, no emotional or financial ties - then do it. What’s the worst that could happen? You hate it. You move back. Nothing will have changed in six months.
What is the office culture like at Manifest? What are the aspects of the company culture you most value?
Culture is the most important thing to us at Manifest. We’ve set out to create an environment where every single person genuinely loves coming in and feels as though they have a place and a purpose. It sounds corny, but we want this to be the best place to work, where our employees know we’ll catch them if they fall and be there to celebrate their successes. We have two rules in the office: “Work hard and be nice to people” and if you don’t comply with them, then you’re out!
How have your past internships, education, and work experiences prepared you for the work you do today? How have they not prepared you?
My degree is in Communications Studies which touched upon aspect of PR but was very much theory-based. You know, lots of old white men trying to discover and dissect how the world thinks. Although super interesting, it wasn’t the main thing that prepared me for this role. I actually think my various Saturday jobs helped me the most. I spent my school years working in trainer shops and luxury department stores, which made me observant about people from all different backgrounds. It also gave me an interest in popular culture and made me hella bolshy.
How would you say being a woman has affected your professional experience?
The PR industry is massively female, especially in the more junior levels, so I’ve luckily never had my gender work against me. It’s ludicrous though that when you get to the Boardroom you see a dramatic switch to men dominating the space. If anything, this hasn't deterred me, but instead, spurred me on to achieve an equal seat at the Boardroom table. At Manifest, our Executive Committee is majority women and to boot, we have two badass women heading up our Stockholm office. We’ve also put in place industry-leading maternity (and paternity!) policies to help our parents get back into the workplace after they've had a baby.
What are some common misconceptions about your role?
People assume PR is all glitzy parties and champagne swigging. I wish it was! It’s a hell of a lot of hard graft and, especially in the early days, you can feel like you’re a bit of a scapegoat to your clients, your bosses and the media. You’re not the one swigging the bubbles, but running around with a headpiece topping up everyone’s glasses. Some people also seem to think publicists are airheads - and there may be a few out there! But, the best work comes from really sound and thorough strategic thinking. It’s not just about getting a product covered on a page, but more so about creating a brand with a purpose that can have an emotional connection with people.
What advice would you give to a Babe trying to break into your industry?
Master the art of being impatiently patient. And by that I mean be fiercely impatient in reaching your goals, but understand that it won’t happen overnight. Failing is fine. Giving up is not.
What does success look like to you?
My perception of success changes regularly because I’m the type of person that works well with small stepping stone goals. Right now, success to me is having our own sexy office (we’re currently in a WeWork) and a team of 15 people. When we get close to that (and we’re already at 10 people so I dont think it’ll be long) I’ll create a new vision of what success looks like.
What helps you wind down and manage stress?
Exercise keeps me sane. I wouldn’t be where I was today if I didn't make working out an important part of my life. I cycle a lot too - the route to work is my time to wake up and get my head in gear.
What are some notable (funny, embarrassing, intense) experiences you’ve had on the job?
One of my clients once organized an internal social media trainer to come in and run a session for 100 members of their team and our agency, with the aim of teaching us what good social media content looks like. At the start of the session, they asked us all to tweet something that we felt was good content - whoever got the most likes/ RTs and responses after the hour-long session would win £100. My tweet: “RT this and I’ll twitpic my boobs” went wild and my phone was bleeping like crazy the whole session. It was only then that I realized I wasn’t tweeting from my personal account, but my client’s account. Of which there were 100 of the employees in the same room as me.
What’s next for you?
At the moment, we’re working on building a West Coast operation for Manifest. We’re looking to assemble a killer team in San Fran so that we can continue on with our mission to takeover the US. Interested? Shoot me your resume!
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
“Don't find yourself on the wrong side of average”. This has always been my life motto and it’s something I remind myself of when I’m working on a new campaign or faced with monumental life decisions. How can it be better and different? How can I be better and different?
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