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So What Do You Do, Sarah Evans, Owner and Partner at J Public Relations?

'It's really about relationships we've sustained that have helped us create this company.'

- June 25, 2014
Wannabe PR pros who have seen Sarah Evans featured on countless media outlets, including Forbes, MSNBC and ABC News, may assume that their road to the top will be likewise paved with TV appearances and red-carpet soirées. The truth, however, is that Evans' journey as owner and partner of the luxury hospitality PR firm J Public Relations, founded by college friend Jamie Lynn Sigler (no, not the actress), hasn't comes without lots of hard work.

It's been worth it, though, and after launching the company's New York division in 2009 in her late 20s, JPR now has more than 70 clients on five continents. Evans may not get much sleep these days ("We're doing conference calls starting at 6 a.m. sometimes and ending at 11 p.m."), but she can certainly savor the fruits of her labor. JPR has seen a 50 percent year-over-year revenue increase in each of the five years of Evans' tenure with the top-ranking firm -- proof that the publicist is a pretty badass businesswoman, too.

Name: Sarah Evans
Position: Owner/partner at J Public Relations
Resume: Moved to San Diego after college and started interning at a local PR firm while waiting tables. Landed her first full-time PR gig at Allison and Partners before relocating to New York in 2003 to take a job with Hawkins International, where she worked for six years. In 2009, she launched the New York division of J Public Relations.
Birthdate: February 22, 1979
Hometown: Fredericksburg, Virginia
Education: BS, political science, East Carolina University
Marital status: Married
Media mentor: Katie Couric: "She's reinvented herself for decades and she's continued to stay relevant."
Best career advice received: "The harder you work, the luckier you get."
Guilty pleasure: Bravo TV
Last book read: The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin
Twitter handle: @jrpublicity

What inspired you to start your own PR firm at age 29?
My business partner is my best friend from college, and she had started J Public Relations in San Diego when she was 25 in 2005. I was in New York working in luxury travel PR, so we were doing very similar things on different coasts, and we talked and said, 'You know what, we could do this together, and why not start J Public Relations in New York City?' So I took the leap of faith and left my amazing job and started JPR here in New York out of my apartment.

What was the most difficult part of establishing the New York division of JPR? And what advice do you have for others who are considering starting their own firm?
I think the most difficult part in the beginning was that I'm a people person. I'm an extrovert, very social, so starting it by myself in my apartment and not having anyone around me, at least physically, was very difficult. And I think for others starting out, [it helps to put] yourself in an environment where you can survive, like renting a shared office space. I was going back and forth to California a lot, so that was really great for me. I think also having a clear path of what makes you excited and what makes you tick [is important]. For us, hospitality and luxury lifestyle [brands] are something we're very passionate about personally, so it's easier to do professionally because when we talk about it we know a lot about it. It makes us light up. And, truly, relationships are what make the world go round. It's really about these relationships that we've sustained individually that have helped us create this company that we have today.

"I think [building relationships] is really organic, and I think social media has made it easier than ever."

Networking is something we all know is important, but some people are still unsure how to do it effectively. What are your tips?
I think [building relationships] is really organic, and I think social media has made it easier than ever. Whether you have a love-hate relationship with Facebook or Instagram or what have you, now with people that you don't talk to all the time you can still feel like you know what's going on in their lives. You're able to see a snapshot of who they are on social media. And whether it's commenting on a post or just shooting them a quick note to say 'I'm thinking of you' or 'I saw a photo of your adorable child on Facebook,' engaging with them personally really holds that professional connection. It has to be very organic. Networking events are great, but that's not where I've met my deepest and true relationships. It's through working with people, really understanding who they are, reading their stories and understanding what they write about -- and then traveling with them and understanding what they love to eat, and maybe what they dislike.

Many people look at publicists and think PR is such a glamorous field. What's the biggest misconception about PR?
It's definitely not all glitz and glamour, that's for sure. I was actually just in a meeting and I was talking with somebody about JPR and how we got to where we are today. There's been lots of blood, sweat and tears involved. And I think that in PR, it's all about the hustle. You have to have that hustle; you have to have that drive.

Many of the qualities that I think make a successful PR person are innate; they can't be learned. It's drive; it's charisma; it's intuition. It's intuitively understanding what a client wants and what a client needs, and then intuitively understanding the media and their reaction to that. So it's all of these qualities that really make up a great PR person that, coupled with knowledge and understanding of the industry and writing, as well as what we do, which is hospitality.

"Many of the qualities that I think make a successful PR person are innate; they can't be learned. It's drive; it's charisma; it's intuition."

So how do you balance your personal and professional lives?
I think that's so important because a happy boss means happy employees, so it's huge that Jamie and I continue to be happy personally. And for me, I have a 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter who's my world, so I try to get home at the same time every day, and I will block out a couple hours when I get home -- that's my time with her. And then after she goes to sleep, I work. And I work really hard during the week, but I try as much as possible to have my weekends be my time with my husband, my daughter and my dog. It's a constant work in progress, let's be honest. But I try hard, and I know how important that balance is to my well-being and ultimately the well-being of the company.

JPR has more than 20,000 Twitter followers and has been recognized for its social media efforts. What's your advice for other firms?
First, you have to have dedicated resources for social media. Social media can't be just an afterthought and lumped into everything that you're doing. I think it really has to be a dedicated team that's paying attention to it and cultivating it. It has to be conversational, and it has to be a reflection of who you are. I think our social media [Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn], if you looked at it over the last five years, has really evolved, and it's really grown up with us as a brand. But it's organic. I think if you go on our social media pages, you get an idea of who we are as a company and who we are as people. And I think that's important, that there's that connection. And the other thing is, don't take your brand too seriously, so if you're a company, you're not just pushing out content. You're engaging with people and making sure that content is really meaningful. People can only hear that there's a package or a special so many times. It's really about, if you're a New York hotel, for example, talking about what's happening in New York and becoming a resource for who you are and who your audience is.

Andrea Williams is a freelance writer based in Nashville. Follow her at @AndreaWillWrite

NEXT >> So What Do You Do, Andrea Werbel, Founder and Managing Director of PR Firm Parasol?

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of Mediabistro Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of Mediabistro Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.

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