Jori White shares her philosophy of Lifestyle PR, along with the story – from humble beginnings – of the rise of her eponymous agency. Exciting anecdotes and insightful observation are found in equal measure during this eleven minute podcast interview. Interview took place in March 2010.
Tell us some background about yourself?
Well as you can probably tell from my accent, which is now somewhere mid- Atlantic, that I’m originally from America. I came to London some 20 years ago and while I’ve been back in forth in the past, especially in the early days, this country is home to me, my family and my business.
I was still a teenager when I arrived and needed to finish my education – so I completed a degree in business with a focus on marketing at The American College in London. I had no idea what I wanted to do work wise and through a sequence of events found myself as second assistant manager at the Michelin Starred Argyle Restaurant.
They looked after me and organised an introduction to the original guru of modern restaurant PR – Alan Crompton-Batt. I spent a period of time working for Alan and learning a huge amount in a short period of time. The job was pretty intense and I happened to be introduced, via a journalist at The Guardian, to Iqbal Wahhab.
Iqbal hired me to look after restaurant PR, in particular new business outside of the Asian Market. This worked out very well as I brought in a number of clients in the first year. Iqbal had started editing Tandoori Magazine and had visions of opening the Cinnamon Club , gradually restaurant PR wasn’t part of his longer term strategy.
In 1995, I suggested to him that I was planning on starting my own PR business and he kindly didn’t object to me retaining what became the original Jori White PR client base.
For the first four to five years I did pretty much exclusively restaurant PR, in fact I did the launch of The Cinnamon Club for Iqbal (so we were on good terms) and subsequently, in 1997 did the spring launch in Tatler for Marco Pierre White at Mirabelle. That launch had great coverage, including a TV series following Marco through the launch process.
This makes the early years sound glamorous but they were tough too – lots of determination, networking and developing contacts is a must in this business. In the restaurant PR scene, it’s a fact of life that you get face to face time with your contacts because you tend to meet them over a lunch or dinner. In other areas of PR getting the face to face time to build relationships can be more challenging. However, I was quietly determined to ‘win the pitch’ in other business areas and there’s a natural business flow from food and drink to travel to hotels to spas to beauty. While clients may start off within that chain, a customer base soon develops where one is independent of another.
Being able to offer the broader ‘Consumer Lifestyle PR’ has also helped raise the bar on contact levels – for example if you can offer an editor some copy across five different areas then not only do you service five different clients at once but you also get to liaise with more senior levels at a publication than if you were just focusing on one area.
Business expansion wise, the automotive industry was always of personal interest, it’s in my blood, and my first client in that area was RM Auctions – the worlds largest classic car auction house.
Through that engagement I was introduced to Mr Ecclestone, who asked me to help launch his daughter’s menswear formula one clothing line – the drivers wore the clothes in a fashion show for charity at The Monaco Grand Prix. That was a fantastic experience!
I was also asked by RM Auctions to launch a Ferrari auction in Maranello, where I met the people from Ferrari and as a result was invited to pitch for the launch of the Ferrari Store. I remember going to Maranello with my team for the presentation and feeling a little scared as we were up against some large mutli-national companies. It was a huge highlight of my career to win the account. But coming back to restaurant PR; having a new restaurant launch is in my heart and soul and I feel that something and I’m very fortunate to have always been especially busy in this area.
So how would you define Lifestyle PR?
It’s consumer-led and multi-dimensional. In other words, everything we as consumers do – from morning to night – whether we realize it or not, is around a lifestyle. The products and brands that we use may be subconsciously interconnected but also stand alone. It’s important to be able to understand the multi-dimensional package when servicing clients.
For example, the launch of large, high quality, shopping centre is about an aspiring consumer lifestyle – fashion, beauty, food and drink, possibly automotive and so on – so it’s natural for a Lifestyle PR company to cover the whole launch. The alternative would be, in this example, specialist individual PR companies who have neither the interconnected knowledge of the Lifestyle PR package nor the economies of scale.
Tell us some more about the history of your company?
In the beginning there was me and a laptop and a hope (laughing)! Via my boyfriend at the time I had a very small office space in Ganton Street, Soho but after a few months I had to move my business to my living room in West Kensington. Having started with the Soho address it seemed important to keep it – for continuities sake – so I had all mail and telephone redirected to home from the Ganton Street offices.
Fortunately, within 6 months I had saved enough to cover a years rent on a fourth floor office on Brewer Street. We grew organically, as I got more business I took on more people, taking over more office space on that fourth floor until we took up the whole floor – even though it was four flights of stairs and a killer (laughing)
We were growing and doing well so I decided to buy office space as opposed to renting so we moved to where we are now in Bourchier Street. I’ve always loved soho and love having office space here.
At the moment we’re 17 people – we tend to have a degree of flexibility in that we will take people on who are freelance to help us with projects or from freelance to permanent depending on business flow.
Everyone has experienced the credit crunch, as a company we decided to stand our ground on fees – as a cornerstone philosophy of the business we over deliver and under promise – if the customer is expecting x, you better make damn sure they get x+y.
I knew that clients would need even more time and hard work spent to achieve the same high quality deliverables as in good economic times: So there was no way fees could come down.
Last September business took a strong upturn and thankfully we’ve done very well considering the tough times that everybody has been through.
What is your go-to-market structure?
Each client will have a team, although I’m very hands-on with both the customer and the key contacts of the business. I also participate in the strategizing of campaigns for clients. It’s what I love doing.
Customer satisfaction is also king and we do everything we can to ensure each customer is satisfied. This is something that can be managed by setting the right expectations based upon our knowledge and expertise. We would also set targets and key performance indicators to help monitor the achievement of objectives to the benefit of the customer.
What are your plans for the future?
Everybody wants to grow and we’re no different. Referral business is vitally important and represents around 90% of what we do, which really comes back to maintaining customer satisfaction. Add on campaigns as part of repeat business is going to be important and part of that will be driven by the digital information revolution – twitter, facebook, the net in general – and this whole area is very exciting and rewarding for the future!