Spotlight: Jennifer Jenkins

On the heels of the 10th anniversary of branching out on her own, local PR maven Jennifer Jenkins talks about juggling that seemingly elusive work / life balance.

Photo by Nickole Haymaker

Before we get started, I have to acknowledge that if you were a man, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation! Katie Couric has started asking top male executives how they “do it all,” since that is a question continuously asked of women at the top of their fields. But there is something about the way both you and your staff talk about balancing work and family that made me think that a lot of MB’s readers could relate. 

So to start, what does work / life balance mean to you? How do you define that?

Oh my gosh, I would say, “Is there such a thing?” (She laughs.) No, I actually do believe there is such a thing. For my team and me, it’s about identifying whatever your most important priority is for that day — whether it’s a big presentation with a client or your mom is sick and having surgery or a child is graduating from preschool — these are big deals and need to be put in a place of priority. Since we are an all-female company, and more than half of our team members are working moms who need flexibility in order to maintain that balance, I wanted to make sure this is a place where no one has to choose between family or career.

Were there times in your career when you didn’t believe a healthy balance was achievable?

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Once I had my third child, it was really hard to think about traveling overnight, multiple nights at a time, leaving kids at home. There was definitely a time in my early career when women in particular tried to shield their role as a mom and a wife, fearful that would be a barrier to success. I think there is so much more understanding in the workplace today than there used to be. When I started JJPR, it was just me — solo entrepreneurship with one client. But as my business began to grow, what I found was that prioritizing a balance was a great strategy for recruiting and retaining really accomplished employees. Finding that balance was the foundation on which I built JJPR. 

Was there a moment that pushed you to make the leap to your own agency?

When my youngest got sick with RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) after I had gone back to work, the first thing I was asked was if she could be left at daycare or with a babysitter, and that’s a part of what pushed me to break out on my own. That tug was really, really strong. It was more important for me to take care of family, but I still wanted to do the work and have a career. I didn’t realize it could grow to what it is today.

And was it a scary leap?

It was a huge decision. I was leaving a really good job with benefits at a solid agency, and some people have told me since that I was a pioneer. I never thought of it that way! But even just 10 years ago, there were no “boss babes” and hashtags for all that. No one was running from the corporate structure or trying to do something on their own to be able to balance that work and family life. But my husband Jerry said, “If this is how you’re feeling, you need to do it.” Like when I was asked to be president of the Junior League when I was more than 8 months pregnant.

I can’t believe you said yes!

I know! I remember talking to Jerry about it. I knew it would be a wonderful learning experience for me, and it truly was a training ground for this business. I am also a big pros-and-cons-list-maker, and I remember going through long lists when I wanted to start my own agency. It was an eye-opener to look at the pros and cons and realize I could still do certain things, even if I started my own agency, but there were things I couldn’t do if I stayed where I was. I am a gut person, I feel the decision. But once we made that list, it was pretty obvious. 

What hours do you work these days?

It’s definitely an ebb and flow. When the pandemic hit, I was working way more hours, upwards of 60 hours a week, because during those weeks and months our clients were the top priority. They needed our support. By and large I have been able to dial back my hours compared to when I first started the business. And our team members have that same ebb and flow. Sometimes we work late nights, we work events and we adjust our hours to compensate for that. This summer I have been trying to have Fridays at home to do something fun with my children. I can’t always do that, but I have to give myself a little pass because flexibility doesn’t always work on schedule. 

How do you keep work from seeping into your home life?

Personally, I stopped looking at emails on weekends and at night because it stressed me out and there was nothing I could do in that moment. I was working hard all day, and I wasn’t turning off so I could have my focus and my attention on my kids. 

Do you have any specific memories of your kids coming to work with you?

Graham was a little baby when I once interviewed (via phone) Port Authority Director Jimmy Lyons. Graham was a quiet baby normally, but he just wailed. Jimmy Lyons was great about it. I was 26 at the time and completely mortified. It was a really big interview. 

My son, Miles, used to drive to the office with me so much that he memorized my Starbucks drive-through order by heart! But he has grown to have such a work ethic, and I’m proud of that.

Then my youngest, Ann Page, was 6 months old when I started JJPR. She came to work with me quite a lot. I remember her as a little baby in a bouncy seat next to me as I was making phone calls. 

One of my vivid memories is when Ann Page turned 1. The business wasn’t quite a year old, and we were knee-deep in the throes of doing the big grand opening for ThyssenKrupp Steel and ThyssenKrupp Stainless. I was working 18 to 20 hours some days. I ran home long enough for us to do a little family birthday celebration with cake and to take pictures, and then I was back off. That was difficult; I have had to make choices. That day of the birthday, the balance tugged toward work. We didn’t forgo any celebrating, but I needed to work on that launch.

What kind of leader are you?

My mentality is that “teamwork makes the dreamwork,” so we look out for one another. If you are a good leader, no one will know who the leader is because the team is empowered to make smart decisions, and I feel like I see that every day. They come to work with great ideas, but I have to empower them to think independently and let them know I value their ideas and skills.

How did quarantine affect your workflow and productivity? 

I definitely think employers are realizing employees can be just as productive telecommuting. For us, we seamlessly moved to distance work because at some point through the years, we have all worked from home while we juggled life. 

But there is no replacement for that in-person team camaraderie. We did so many great brainstorming sessions in quarantine via Zoom, but once we got back together (at a safe social distance), we learned that there is no replacement for human connection. We value that. 

How do you practice self-care and avoid burnout?

I have a hard time with self-care. I am getting better as I get older. I get up very early in the morning before everyone else, have my coffee and read my devotion, plan my day and think through things. That quiet time is good for me and helps me avoid burnout. Getting away and truly disconnecting is good — going somewhere with terrible cell service, being in the moment and enjoying nature. Spending time disconnected is an important self-care tactic. And I get a facial once a month; that’s my biggest indulgence as I age. 

Can you find peace with the fact that you can’t give work and family 100 percent of what they want or need?

It’s taken me a long time to learn the word “no.” Someone once told me, “If it’s not a ‘hell yes,’ then it’s a ‘no.’” That’s sometimes hard because, like most moms, I want to do it all, but want and need are very different. I have to prioritize my time, because I can’t make more of it. I don’t have more of myself to give to my family. 

For example, I totally dropped the ball on the quarantine homeschooling — I failed at this! But it was a battle I couldn’t fight right then. But AP’s teacher was gracious. It was hard to keep up with, so my hat’s off to everybody who stays home with the children or teaches all day. None of it’s easy, and trying to do all of it during quarantine is unrealistic. 

Doing it all is just impossible.

I have more choices because I work for myself, and that’s what I wanted when I set out on my own. I wanted choices. I have tried to work harder and harder to set boundaries that put my family first, but I struggle every day.

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