How Making A Comment On A NY Times Article Landed Publicist Jenelle Hamilton The Client Of A Lifetime
Walking the red carpet, hobnobbing with celebrities, attending A-List parties, working with Royalty. Of course, this sounds like fun, but for veteran public relations entrepreneur Jenelle Hamilton it’s all work.
London-born Hamilton has reached the top of the PR game, handling global public relations for clients most professionals could only dream of representing, like fashion icon Bob Mackie, celebrity hairstylist Andre Walker, the Shorty Awards, and Mented Cosmetics through her own NYC-based agency, Jenelle Hamilton PR
Hamilton worked hard to climb the ladder. Before striking out on her own, she consulted with Tom Ford for the launch of his first fragrance, Black Orchid. She also worked as a fashion publicist in London, heading up the luxury clothing brand Marni. Then seven years ago, she landed fashion icon Bob Mackie as a client in the most unique way–from a comment she made on a New York Times article. In addition to earning his business, over the years, Mackie has gifted Hamilton 20 vintage pieces, including some couture items.
Public relations remains one of the industries that continues to grow year after year. In fact, worldwide public relations revenue is projected to grow from $14 billion generated in 2016 to approximately $19.3 billion by 2020. And, in the U.S., PR agencies generated a revenue of $13.5 billion in 2016, marking a significant increase compared to previous years.
Hamilton recently told MadameNoire how she took over the game and what’s next for her.
MadameNoire (MN): What would you say have been your top 3 biggest achievements during your years of experience as a PR professional?
Jenelle Hamilton (JH): Well the first thing would be staying in business for seven years. According to Bloomberg, 8 out of 10 entrepreneurs who start businesses fail within the first 18 months. A whopping 80 percent crash and burn. So I am very proud that I have been able to consistently build my business and client roster, year after year.
Working an A-List Hollywood red carpet was on my career bucket list. I was able to walk my client, Bob Mackie, down the SAG Awards and do press with major international outlets. Seeing Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Idris Elba, Sophia Vergara and more, right next to me was incredible. I just kept thinking, “not bad for a girl from Brixton, South London!” It definitely was a pinch-me moment.
Seeing all my clients expand and build their companies is extremely gratifying for me. Most recently last year, I was heading up the PR launch for Mented cosmetics, a beauty line created for women of color. In 12 months, we landed placements in pretty much every major print and digital outlet. The brand sort of exploded because of the consumer demand and it’s been such an exciting time. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do together in year two!
MN: How has the industry changed since you first entered the game?
JH: Social media and the way we obtain information. PR firms and clients have to be more transparent and personable. Previously, the whole PR industry was very behind the scenes, but now with social media, the publicist is an extension of the clients’ brand. You must be a brand ambassador at all times, so you have to also be aware of how you present yourself both online and offline. It’s definitely a much more popular career now. When I started 16 years ago, no one wanted to work in PR. Now it seems like it’s everyone’s dream job, which is kind of cool.
MN: How did you get your start?
JH: Working with Her Royal Highness The Princess Anne at a non-profit in London. I started as the PR Coordinator, so I was in charge of monitoring media mentions, working with the events team and attending quarterly meetings with the princess. I remember seeing her security sweeping rooms, checking for bugs and what not, before she arrived. I was like, “How am I in a stateroom, sitting with a Princess right now!” It was very surreal.
Then I worked at Karla Otto, one of the biggest fashion PR agencies in the world. I headed up the PR for Marni (an Italian luxury fashion label) and got to travel to Italy for the men’s’ and women’s shows, working with celebrity stylists’ to dress their clients and work the door at cool events. It was definitely fun.
MN: What does it take to be at the top of your game in PR?
JH: Intuition. When I met with the co-founders of Mented cosmetics, I just knew they would be big. So it’s sort of knowing the trends and what’s going to be hot. You can’t teach that, it’s something you either have or not. The same thing for social media. I just knew that platforms like Twitter and Instagram would take off. I was like, this is going to alter the PR industry big time. It did.
MN: What obstacles have you faced, if any, as a Black woman in the industry?
JH: None personally, but I know that many of my colleagues and staff [who are women of color] have found it incredibly difficult to get hired at big PR firms and global brands. If you look at the staff bio pages on the websites of big firms, the lack of diversity is evident. It is a problem that definitely needs to be tackled.
MN: Do you feel more women of color are needed in the industry?
JH: Yes, of course. I think we have a lot of insight and great skill sets to share. There is definitely enthusiasm, so it would be nice to see more and more people of color working at top PR agencies, or in-house at global brands.
When I see Black women like Fanny Bourdette-Donon at Dior and PR Consultant Kilee Hughes killin’ it, it makes me very happy.
MN:What are some of the risks/benefits of starting your own agency?
JH: Risks: Living in NYC–the threat of not being able to make rent definitely hung over me during the early years. I’d call my family upset and wanting to give up and they’d remind me why I started it in the first place and that I was not a quitter. My dada said, “Once you get past the first five years, you’ll start making money.” He was right!
Benefits: Freedom. To work when, with whom, and how I please. I only work with brands that I am truly passionate about and believe in. I schedule meetings after noon where possible, as that is when I function at my optimum level. And I have the flexibility to work remotely, when I choose to, which allows me to travel. If I wanted to set up office in Paris next week, I could. I love being able to see the world and work, it’s an amazing life.
MN: There have been very few women of color who have reached your level in the industry. How have you been able to do so?
JH: First and foremost, being consistent with the results I deliver for my clients. The fact that I actually produce results and deliver on what I promise, means that I have built a great reputation, so people gladly refer people to me.
Personal branding has helped a lot. The way I present myself and my company online, in person and professionally, has attracted many opportunities. What you put out there is super important, particularly when it comes to being in the right circles that can support your professional growth.
MN: How did you attract such clients as Bob Mackie, The Shorty Awards, Mented Cosmetics, and Andre Walker?
JH: All of these (with the exception of Bob Mackie) was through referral. When they were looking for a publicist, someone said to each of them “You’ve got to meet Jenelle Hamilton!” I met with them, submitted a proposal and I was hired.
Everyone asks me, “How did you get Bob Mackie as a client?” It was fate. I had read an op-ed in The New York Times someone had written about how spending money on a publicist is a waste of time. I felt passionate about it, so wrote something in the comments section, which I never do. The COO of Bob Mackie had read the same article and read the comments section (which he later told me he never does) and liked what I wrote. He made his assistant track me down and send me an email. They invited me to the corporate office and hired me for an art project they were doing. I have been handling his global PR ever since!
MN: Prior to starting this agency, you consulted with Tom Ford for the launch of his first fragrance, Black Orchid. What was that experience like?
JH: Tom Ford was just returning after a quiet stint, since leaving Gucci and YSL. Instead of launching a clothing line (which everyone was expecting), he launched Black Orchid, a unisex fragrance. They hired me to head up regional PR and beauty blogger outreach for the launch. This was when brands were just dipping their toe into the whole blogger phenomenon and were reluctant to send out product samples, so it was a big task.
I was also in charge of the VIPs, making sure they got from a private dinner being held at the Waverly Inn, to the Tom Ford launch party straight after, which was taking place at the Top of The Rock (in NYC). Dreamgirls was out and Jennifer Hudson had been nominated for an Oscar. She performed at the party and brought down the house. It was a great night.
MN: You also worked as a fashion publicist in London, heading up Marni in the UK. What did you take away from that experience?
JH: To be honest at the time, I really wasn’t aware of what an amazing opportunity I had. I really wished I had taken it all in. I was flying to Milan four times a year for fashion week, heading up the door at celebrity parties, having lunches with British Vogue editors, working with stylists for Thandie Newton, Coldplay, and Madonna. I was young and just thought that’s how fashion PR was. Now I know that it wasn’t the norm!
MN: Bob Mackie gifted you 20 vintage pieces, including couture. Have you worn them yet?
JH: Erm, yeah! He gave me a mix of camis, jackets, pantsuits, basically a whole new wardrobe of clothing I could mix and match. He threw in some really expensive dresses too, like a Swarovski-covered dress. Each crystal had been sewn on by hand. I love that dress. I’ve only worn it once, to an awards ceremony I attended with him and he collected an award. He said I looked great in it!
He also gave my daughter a collectable Barbie, which he signed. It was the last ever collectable Barbie he ever made with Mattel. She keeps asking to play with it, of course, that’s not happening! (Laughs)
MN: What’s next for you?
JH: I just want to keep taking all my clients’ to the next level, as it pertains to brand awareness and helping them grow. I also love LA, because it’s warm and sunny. I go back and forth a lot for work, especially during awards’ season, when it’s freezing in NYC. Maybe I’ll open JHPR LA offices!
MN: Any advice for women looking to enter the field, particularly women of color?
JH: Pay your dues. Work hard, shadow publicists with years’ of experience for an extended period of time. You cannot learn a craft in one year and expect to open and run a successful agency at a high level. I was in the industry for 10 years, mastering my draft, until I felt had the skill set to open a communications firm and deliver results. Don’t rush the process, that’s the beautiful part.