Jessica Barlow founded No Agency Method, a PR coaching course for founders and startups, in the middle of a pandemic. She’s already helped coach brands like tea makers Teapigs, chocolate brand Ombar, and Freddie’s Flowers to take their PR in-house. Before becoming an evangelist for DIY PR, she studied graphic design and illustration at Central St Martin’s and worked in advertising for brands like Adidas, Redbull, Samsung, and Channel 4. She moved into PR and marketing with the Karma food waste app, which was praised by Barack Obama after she reached out to him.
Jessica Barlow got her start in the world of PR & Communications with no budget and no contacts. But with planning and big creative ideas, she was able to gain worldwide press coverage for the Karma food waste startup she then worked for, helping propel it to success. Since then, Jessica herself has gone viral multiple times and started her own business, No Agency Method, which supports startup businesses in getting their PR strategy right, last week we spoke to Jessica about how she made it happen.
On getting started: I was originally born and raised in Hong Kong, and then I moved to London for art school, I thought I wanted to be an illustrator. I graduated in the middle of the recession in 2009 and started interning at multiple advertising agencies doing everything across marketing and PR, mostly across agencies. I eventually landed my first job, and it couldn’t have been bigger, cooler, or fancier or working with huger budgets, and yet I really hated it. It just was not my thing. I felt really just jaded by the industry. So that was pivot one. I basically thought okay, maybe I should do my own thing
On turning points: I Burnt out, and I burnt out really badly. And I had to take stock of my life. And I thought, okay, I’ve always been entrepreneurial, but never done anything with it. So I thought, okay, maybe this is when I really do it and take control of my day-to-day, my lifestyle, and how I want to work. I think that part is really important, Please so ask yourself, what do I want my lifestyle to look like, and feel like?
On pivoting: Once I decided to leave the business I was in. I decided to work in a start-up consultancy because I thought I wanted to break into that area at the time. This experience was vital in getting my foot in the door with food start-up Karma, who was impressed with all my advertising experience, yes, but it was the fact I had done business development, even for a very short period of time in food and for a start-up they really loved. So a piece of advice from me, if you want to pivot, is to get your foot in the door with the sorts of businesses you want to work with.
On Fear: PR isn’t something to fear. And it’s not something that nobody can do, or you have to pay an external company to do, you can really do it yourself. And I think it’s the live application and all the like hacks that make the difference.
I want people to step into the fact that PR is just putting yourself out there and raising your profile. It could be you could have an entire PR strategy that’s just about getting on podcasts and that is it. Because you know as the business owner that podcasts are a great medium for you and that your audience resonates with podcasts. You know when you are at your best, and when you are not, start with that.
On UpSkilling Something I would really suggest is in the lightest touch way is that you maintain all the work you do and that you begin to upskill yourself in PR as much as you can whilst you do that as opposed to going to an agency straight away. The reason being that if you outsource PR from the off, you will not understand how it works and so you’ll be less able to brief an agency or get the results you want. As a business founder you know your business the most, you understand where you want it to be seen, so start there. You’re the ultimate expert of your product or your brand. So doing PR yourself, is obviously, what I’m a big champion for.
On working with journalists A great tip here is to start by figuring out which publications you want to be featured in and look at who is writing those articles. That writer probably has a niche, so you can figure out pretty easily if you would be something they might write about.
If you are the founder, and you have direct access to a journalist that is interested in your niche area, then this is gold dust! Keep this relationship at all costs!
Something you may want to do is carve out some time for you, or a team member to specifically research some journalists to engage with, so you can work out how to get best aligned.
On keeping PR aligned with your goals: I would challenge you to always bring back your PR goals to the goals of your company as a whole. So if the goal as a company is to increase engagement, likes, follows..etc. Because PR can dramatically impact sales, but also it can do nothing at all. This is because it could just be pure brand awareness and engagement. You cannot go into your PR strategy with this mindset of all I want is more sales, because you will limit yourself or what your KPI’s could actually be. PR absolutely can drive sales, it does happen. But huge uplifts in sales can be from something you simply wouldn’t guess. So this is how you need to think about PR: It’s about getting the people to come to you. But it is not a business development tool.
Instead, goals should be much more about the things that will eventually lead to sales. So really, really cementing your thought leadership, or being in a position where your product or your service can have real influence. Ultimately we are using PR to create a complete picture of the brand, of you as the founder and what you are about so as soon as someones thinks ‘X’ they think of you. That’s how you get inbound sales and inquiries coming in.
How to get into publications You’re gonna do that by understanding inside out your dream publication. Your dream journalist, you should know who that person is. You should endeavor to be friends with them. It should be that kind of tight so that you can deliver on a plate what they need, have all your assets, copy, and imagery ready to go, and make it accessible at any time.
On nailing image Standards Most publications have image standards. So the imagery you will see used to promote a product or service in vogue might look very different to Dezeen or Courier. Your imagery needs to work and feel on-brand for that publication for them to even consider featuring it. So ensure any image you send meets the brief, again that’s about studying the styling, the photography, the art direction, following photographers who can meet that style.
On product photography: Even as a small business owner it’s still super important to have quality photos of your product, you can get some good shots on mobile phones these days, I also recommend getting those pop-up lightboxes online that you can photograph your product in so it looks very slick. You can make more fun assets using tools like canva to add borders, or text to make it all feel on-brand.
On hero photography for a service, or as a founder If you are a service, as opposed to a product people will likely want to showcase pictures of you or your team, to promote the business so be prepared with a solid set of imagery you really like (because it might end up everywhere) I advise some classic headshots, full-body but also some wide photos in a landscape format, so whoever is laying out imagery has a lot of options. I’d say do this a couple of times a year, so you have some images to play with and so people don’t get bored of seeing the same photo over and over again.
On newsjacking So if you aren’t connecting yourself in popular culture, you are putting yourself at a disservice. I really think it’s something that people forget to do, it’s really easy to put your head down and just keep working and keep working. But if you disengage from popular culture, you lose your opportunity to news jack, which is a fun kind of term that is about using what’s happening in the world right now, that you can essentially connect your brand to.
So for example, when I was working in food waste, if the government was announcing something in food waste, we could go to publications and say, do you need an expert quote on this new initiative that’s been launched? And usually, this stuff happens really fast. So if you’re not plugged in, and you don’t know what’s happening in your niche, you’re losing opportunities. You need to be pro-active. Don’t wait for journalists to come to you. If you use Twitter you can also search terms like ‘Journo-Request’ to see if you match up with anything.
We loved hearing from Jessica about PR!
Jessica is currently obsessed with most podcasts by Wondery. Business Wars is a great one that is both entertaining and feels like you’re learning something. And WeCrashed is an epic inside look at WeWork’s rise and fall. If you’re just looking to be entertained I really enjoyed the Blood Ties podcast.
Jessica 100% recommends these two books to inspire yourself with new ways of thinking/diversifying your ideas – Quiet by Susan Cain and Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed and E-Myth by Michael Gerber is an oldie but goodie business book, lots of gold in there.
Looking for a lightbox for your product photography? Here’s one our team recommends