PR Expert Jillian Sanders on taking more risks and building balance into your life
Describe Jillian Sanders Public Relations in a few words?
PR agency working with the top lifestyle brands & creative talent in the country.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
In January 2020, after 17 years of working in entertainment and PR in NYC, I transferred with my job to Denver. I’d been to Colorado multiple times and loved it and said for years that I was going to move out west. As the years ticked on I decided “What am I waiting for?” Then, because of the pandemic, I was furloughed and eventually let go within three months of moving here. In a new city, without a job, during a pandemic, I was at a loss for what my next move would be. So, I put together a website with all my experience as a way to market myself and emailed everyone I knew back in New York and said I was looking for work as a freelancer. Within the first month, I had three clients. The next month I had two more. The third month I had to file for an LLC and was looking to hire.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I moved to New York City to attend acting school, but after graduating, I quickly realized that my true talent was working behind the camera. I simultaneously landed jobs as the personal assistant to Victoria’s Secret supermodel Frederique van der Wal and famed author of the Goosebumps children’s series, R.L. Stine, and it became clear that where I really found my stride was working in publicity. Hachette Book Group offered me my first full-time job as a publicist. I helped manage national campaigns for multiple cookbook authors from The Food Network, as well as Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook It’s All Good.
From Hachette, I was hired by Random House, where I managed PR for health and wellness titles under the Crown imprint. I then began my career at Hearst Magazines as Senior Manager of Public Relations, overseeing PR and events for Hearst’s top food and lifestyle magazines, including Food Network Magazine, House Beautiful, Town & Country Magazine, Metropolitan Home, Veranda, and The Pioneer Woman Magazine. From Hearst, I transitioned over to tech PR. As the Senior Director of PR and Events for Zeel, I made television appearances across the country while organizing partnership events to strengthen the B2C awareness.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I always knew I wanted to be my own boss, but I didn’t know I had what it took to run my own business. For example, I’m not a numbers person, and I thought I’d have to be a good bookkeeper to be a business owner with multiple clients. I’m learning that as long as you hire people who ARE good at the other stuff, you can focus on the things that keep clients coming back.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
At first, it was entirely word of mouth. All of my clients originated from people who knew me or worked with me previously. Now, we’re getting client referrals, and starting to get our own press.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
When we started out, I wanted us to take on as many clients as we could to secure business and make a name for the company. Now I know our limits: I know how many clients we can take on per month, and I know what types of clients we are most interested in working with. It makes a difference.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
Since officially launching only 7 months ago, we’ve been able to grow into a company of four, and have secured national press with The Today Show, GMA, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Parade, The Coveteur, Marie Claire, E! News, PureWow, PopSugar, as well as local press including SF Chronicle, WestWord, 5280, and more.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
Hiring is everything. When I was hiring, I posted on LinkedIn and in lieu of resumes, I requested applicants send me a personal letter telling me why they wanted to work at JSPR. It’s the easiest way to narrow down the competition. How a person writes tells you so much about them. Of the hundreds (and I mean HUNDREDS) of applications I received, maybe half wrote letters, the other half ignored the letter instruction. Of the half that wrote letters, at least 70% of them were form letters that had been copy and pasted. I had about 20-30 that were decent to consider. The two women I hired, Kaity and Grace, wrote beautifully and thoughtfully – they were the cream of the crop. When we had our first Zoom interviews, I thought “yup, this is exactly who I thought I’d be getting based on their letters!” It was a no-brainer to hire them and I could not be more happy with their work at the company. What I love, too, is that the two of them have become good friends, which I love to see.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
I moved to CO right before the pandemic hit, so starting from scratch when everything was shut down made it hard. When I hired Kaity and Grace, everything became easier. Having people around you is key. Community is everything.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
We are growing! We are taking on more clients each month and garnering more press for our clients with each passing week. I am pleased to say that more businesses in Denver are becoming familiar with us, so we hope to become more of a Colorado staple in the next few years. I think we may also expand into LA at some point – THINK BIG.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned recently?
Take more risks. I moved across the country and started a new business at 39 years old. Both of these are things I always wanted to do, but as time went on, I didn’t know how or when or if they would ever happen. Then. BOOM. Pandemic hits. I move out of New York. I lose my job. I didn’t know anyone out here! I didn’t know how to start a business! But somehow, you figure it out once you put yourself in a position where you have no choice but to make things happen.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
“You have what it takes.”
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
My friends. I have an amazing network of women who keep me sane and I have definitely relied on their counsel this year. They are mostly on the East Coast, but through FaceTime, and phone calls, we stay in touch. I also rely heavily on a steady stream of podcasts, and my journaling practice.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
Absolutely. I travel to California often to see my one of my best friends and her family to work by the ocean. That, plus living here in Colorado and being able to escape to the mountains regularly makes me feel like balance is built into my life out here.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
I didn’t graduate from college. I went to a two year acting conservatory, and from there I waitressed at a NYC steakhouse before being lucky enough to land jobs as a personal assistant which I interviewed my way into. I’ve been a hustler, a people person, and a connector my whole life — not a traditional “by the book” career person in the slightest. Every opportunity that has come to me has been through someone I met organically. Through conversation. Through networking. I really am a publicist through and through.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
I don’t know how helpful these are to an audience at large but for me: I need at least 8 hours of sleep the night before, at least two iced coffees each day, and to start each day with a gratitude journal in order to feel like my day is going to be productive.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
It means I’ve accomplished something great – it’s a title I wear proudly.