Jamie Lynn Sigler and Sarah Evans Thelen are co-founders of J Public Relations and the recently launched social media agency 7th & Wit. The duo, who met as college roommates, now lead a team of over 50 staff, with high-end clients in the travel and hospitality space, such as Four Seasons, Grand Hyatt, Westin, The Ritz Carlton, and many more.
What does your company do?
By the traditional sense of the world, our focus at J Public Relations is media relations and PR strategy for travel, hospitality and lifestyle clients worldwide. From day one, social media, influencers and clients have been an integral part of our business.
How did you start the business? What were you doing at the time?
JLS: I started J Public Relations ten years ago out of my apartment, after working at several agencies in Southern California. Prior to J Public Relations I worked in various roles at PR agencies, and then joined an incredible online interactive agency to learn about what was happening in the exciting world of digital. I loved the agency and my job but it was clear that my passion remained in PR and media, specifically relating to hospitality and lifestyle accounts.
At one point in my early career search, I had met a recruiter named Fran who had set me up with an interview at Enterprise Rent-A-Car. While I did not get that job, Fran and I always stayed in touch with one another (at JPR, we say that relationships make the world go ‘round, and this is a good example of that). Several years later we reconnected as she was working with small businesses to help them receive start-up financing. A promising group of entrepreneurs starting a new furniture store in San Diego, Mixture, had a solid business plan but were lacking marketing savvy. Fran immediately thought of me, her rejected Enterprise candidate, and set up a meeting for us to discuss PR needs. This sparked my own entrepreneurial spirit and with Mixture as a first client, J Public Relations was founded.
I continued growing the firm one client at a time, not through sales, but based on my reputation and referrals for the great work JPR was doing. Because of the solid reputation in San Diego in the hospitality industry, I was being approached by big brands; they liked the agency but were unable to use JPR for projects because we didn’t have an office in New York.
That is where my call to Sarah came in. She is one of my closest friends and roommates from East Carolina University and we had originally moved to California together after graduating from college. Sarah ended up moving to New York and we both continued to work in PR. Knowing JPR needed a New York presence, I called on my friend and we founded one of the first bi-coastal PR firms focused on travel.
We’ve since expanded to Scottsdale and Los Angeles, and started a social and digital agency called 7th & Wit, which launched earlier this year.
In my eyes, we are still launching JPR, which is what makes us good at what we do. Sarah and I are constantly pushing one another, along with our talented executive team, to figure out what is next. I am on the west coast and Sarah is based on the east coast, and we oversee both J Public Relations and 7th & Wit, and the offices in San Diego, New York, Scottsdale and Los Angeles. Together we manage a staff of fifty and all areas of the business from finance, staffing, account strategy, client service, operations, new business development and most importantly, managing and developing the company culture.
SET: I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the best hotels in the world at two other agencies before we started JPR. Jamie and I had always been in each other’s minds, and we always wanted to start a bi-coastal agency focusing on travel and hospitality. Jamie started the San Diego office from her apartment in 2005, and I started the NYC office from my apartment in 2009.
Tell us about some of the highlights of your career thus far:
JLS: Growing J Public Relations from a one-client shop out of my apartment, to one of the fastest growing agencies in the country is a highlight. I would also say one of my highlights is developing the teams at both J Public Relations and 7th & Wit. Each of our employees is smart, dedicated and constantly pushing us to reinvent ourselves and see things in new ways. Our team’s drive and true love for what they do is what brings a great experience to the clients and media that we work with on a daily basis.
SET: The highlights of my career are working with some of the best hotels in the world and having the opportunity to work with a team that I not only care about professionally, but personally as well.
What are some of your current projects that you’re excited about?
JLS & SET: Right now, a big project for us is moving into our new NYC office, as well as the work we are doing in the digital space with 7th & Wit. It’s been a great opportunity to expand our work and scope of services in the digital sphere.
It can be an intense, competitive industry – how do you stay calm and centered?
JLS: We practice what we preach. In order to stay good at what you do, you must have balance. I make an effort to spend time with family and friends, disconnect once in a while, take care of myself, workout, and eat healthy. And I’ve gotten really good at multi-tasking!
SET: You continue to stay grateful and you continue to remind yourself everyday about what is important, you can’t sweat the small stuff.
Highlight a few key pitfalls you’d advise against in creating a thriving business and your tips for success:
SET: A major pitfall is trying to do it all. Know what you are good at. Know what makes you happy and focus on that.
JLS: Train a team that you can trust and delegate to. The best part of our team is that we operate much like a family; nobody wants to let anyone else down. Getting to that point is an amazing place to manage from. We’ve put the agency culture above all else; if we are not operating well as a team, we can’t successfully deliver the best experiences for our clients or media.
SET: Tips for success: Surround yourself with positive, smart people. Work with clients that motivate you and always keep learning.
JLS: Have a niche and have your team members have a niche: you cannot be an expert in everything!
What are some of the biggest changes you predict for the industry in the next 5-10 years?
JLS: Continuing to recognize the trends within our space. Understanding the Millennial generation from both a consumer and internal staffing perspective, and how to best make them happy and successful.
SET: I think people in our industry will have to have an understanding of the digital and social sphere, and it will continue to become more integrated under one market umbrella.
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