Jennifer Janson owns and runs Six Degrees, a reputation management agency focused on STEM-based businesses. She has always wanted to contribute to a world where businesses behave better – and are more successful as a result. Six Degrees is her vehicle to do just that! She is a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal’s Risk Report and author of the bestselling Reputation Playbook, published in 2014 by Harriman House. She is a member of the CIPR and trustee of South African charity AfrikaTikkun. She has an insatiable curiosity and last year set up My business Bookclub to help ambitious businesspeople save time finding their next great read.
Describe your background in 5 words max
Canadian in UK, via Africa.
How did you get into PR and/communications?
I left university and ended up in New York City at Ruder Finn’s executive training programme. After three-months I was offered a job as an AE, working on the agency’s first ever technology account, and the rest is history! In 1997 I applied to a small agency in the UK. I moved here as an Account Manager and quickly worked my way to Business Unit Director through hard work and long hours. 10 years later I did a management buy-out, company rebrand and became an overnight entrepreneur. That was more than a decade ago and I still love it.
What do you love about your job?
The thing I love most about my job is the ability to make a significant impact on the lives of the people I hire. What a privilege to be able to be the person who gives someone their first break. Or to help someone navigate a tricky client situation. Or to make connections that change the course of someone’s future career. I feel the weight of that responsibility every single day.
What are you most proud of?
You know, I never imagined myself as a business owner. It’s not something I believed I was capable of doing. So that’s one thing. But I think related to that is that for the most part I have maintained meaningful relationships with the people who have left Six Degrees. I genuinely care about them, and the fact that they stay in touch suggests that what we’ve built here is more than just a business.
What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?
Without a doubt the hardest lesson to learn was when I’d reached the limits of my own resilience. About 5 years ago I was running Six Degrees, on the European leadership committee of a global entrepreneurs group, an advisory board member for a small business, raising a 4-year-old, dealing with a terminally ill family member and, oh – writing a book. It took its toll both physically and mentally. I got to the point where I just had to stop, decide to remove anything from my life that was not a top priority (like my son and my business) and take a break. Four years on and I am a MUCH more balanced person.
Who are your favourite people in PR/communications and why?
I have two. The first is Roger Staton, the founder of Six Degrees. He has been a mentor and friend to me for the last two decades. He is like a sage – I can go to him with just about anything and he will help see me through the other side. The other is a former employee, Tobi-Ruth Adebekun. She started as my PA and could have been running the place within months. Her grace in the face of personal adversity is something I find myself drawing on when I have challenges of my own.
What skill do you think every PR has to nail?
The ability to see an issue from different perspectives.
What is your favourite social network and why?
I’m kind of going off social networks. They are an essential part of a communicator’s life, but I make an effort to make the most of my time OFF social media.
Who is your favourite journalist and why?
Jonathan Moules from the FT. He is the ultimate professional and has been a pleasure to work with over the years. He’s great at convincing clients to share ‘lessons learned’ in order to help his readers, because he never makes them look silly.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
It came from my dad: choose to go in early and leave on time, or go in on time and leave late. Never do both or you’ll burn out. Easier said than done in these days of mobile working, but I’ve broadly tried to stick to that throughout my career.
“PR agencies only talk about diversity to win big awards and look good. But it’s just tokenistic”. Discuss.
It’s hard for me to judge because I’ve not been exposed to a lot of other agencies. I’m sure it does happen though. From our perspective, diversity is key to ensuring we can tap into broad perspectives in the work that we do for our clients. I love what you are doing at BME PR Pros because I am hoping it will provide a place to go where you can find an employment pool that is diverse by its very nature.
What advice would you give a talented BME PR Pro starting to think this sector will never give them the opportunities they deserve and are close to jacking it in to retrain as a doctor (which would make their African parents very happy)?
Please don’t give up. There are still some old-fashioned views out there, but there are lots of people who value you for everything you can bring to a business. Keep networking and you will find them!