“You spend an enormous amount of time at work when you run your own company, so you had better have enthusiasm for what you do.” That’s the word from public relations doyenne Jenni Newman.
Newman was vice chairperson of Lobedu Manning Selvage & Lee SA. She left there to form Jenni Newman Public Relations. Through its global network the company has affiliates in more than 90 countries.
It offers PR services across the board, with a list of clients that has included Philips, Telkom, Daimler Chrysler, BMW, Rolex, Eli Lilly, Sanofi-Aventis, Roche and South African Airways. Newman regularly secures millions of rands’ worth of publicity for these companies.
Following a career in travel writing, in 1992 Newman decided to set up her own PR consultancy. It was then that Leo Burnett approached her to work with the agency in a winning pitch for SAA. In 2003, after a ten-year relationship, she decided it was time to do something new.
“Running your own business is a challenge,” says Newman. “You are responsible for the wellbeing of other people and you owe it to them to run that business well. I think my success stems from having a family that taught me nothing was impossible. I’m also fortunate in that I love PR because it has given me access to an enormous number of different industries – PR requires you to be an instant expert on everything, from technology to fashion to pharmaceuticals.” Newman says success depends on a few non-negotiables:
“You must always say what you do and do what you say. Also, have a good financial manager and be conservative in your spending – never commit your company to any big expenses if you are unsure about something. Reward people really well for success and, though it may be tempting, don’t spend a lot of money on yourself. A business needs good resources; always make sure you have the best equipment so that people’s work lives are easier and more efficient. Never buy anything without an order number.”
The PR industry comes with its own set of challenges and making sure clients pay is one of them. “We bill fee-based work in advance,” says Newman. “Where big projects are concerned, we put together a budget, estimate what needs to be paid when, and arrange for the client to pay us first.
We do not lay out any money on behalf of clients. If we do work for someone we don’t know, we request a 50% payment in advance. I never allow any exceptions. There is nothing worse than completing a job and then having to run around for your money.” Newman believes integrity is important.
“We are honest with our clients. If we’ve screwed up we tell them. Reputation is built over a long period, but it can be destroyed by one bad mistake. I aim to be decent, honest and kind in everything I do.” She says the personal touch is vital in business.
“I keep names on file of people I may have talked to years ago. I remember birthdays and anniversaries. If I read an article in a magazine and I know someone who has an interest in the topic, I send the story to them. I’ve generated a lot of business that way.”