Up close and personal with Jo Chappel, Creative Director
Jo talks us through landing her first role in PR, how the industry has evolved and working life at Fever.
Talk us through how you first landed yourself a role in the PR industry?
I started off in advertising but quickly became frustrated with the siloed roles so went to an internet café (it was that long ago it was pre smart phone), looked up ‘careers for English grads’ and PR came up. The breadth of the role appealed to me – in those days there were pretty much no specialist roles in PR so you had a go at everything; budgets, copywriting, event management, dealing with tricky clients and demanding journalists. I started off with a summer’s internship at a tiny agency just off Oxford Street. Their main client was a candle brand, so I spent many days in a dark cupboard getting high on Vanilla Musk wrapping up candles for media desk drops. My other main job was to regionalise press releases about ‘a sensual new flavour of’ said candles and fax them out which really tested my GSCE geography (Bradford: North East or West?)
Despite not experiencing one measly champagne sip of the so-called glamorous PR world I started looking for PR roles in the job sections of papers (yes, that long ago) and somehow landed an interview at THE (then) hottest agency in town. The interview – with the super sharp and suave MD – was a disaster and as I walked down the road feeling dejected I realized that I really wanted the job but I needed to do something drastic to be in with a chance. So, I went back to my English degree roots and wrote a poem; using the name of the agency as a clunky metaphor to show how much I wanted the job. The poem was terrible; it didn’t rhyme, it didn’t flow but it gave me another opportunity to PR myself in a career that is all about creating stand-out; and I was offered the job. To this day when applicants send in a video, a cake or a CV mocked up to look like a newspaper, I always do my best to see them.
What does a typical day in your role look like?
The main attraction of PR was the huge variety and scope of it and I’m happy that even though I’m now in a specialist role, that aspect hasn’t changed. My days are usually a blend of client work – which could mean running trends workshops or leading a Fever Lab to come up with proactive ideas for our clients – working on pitches, or going out with the team to get cultural inspiration as part of our Culture Club – a bursary which funds everyone to get out of the office and experience all the weird and wonderful things London has to offer to bring back into the agency as creative stimuli.
What have been the greatest changes you’ve witnessed in the industry since you started out?
There have been so many; when I started out there was no social media (OMG) so the news cycle wasn’t nearly so immediate and interactive. We’d send out a press release for coverage to appear the next day and for all clients – even the tech ones – print coverage was king. Copy was the main medium for brand comms – for a big campaign we might think about getting some photography and even some beta footage but that was rare. Now, we have to think about how we best tell a story across print, broadcast, online media and social, which gives us a whole new visual narrative to play with. When I started out there were very few specialist roles and today most agencies have a Creative Director and Strategy / Planning in some capacity which is great as it enables people like me who want to hone in on developing their specialist skills and for PR to take a seat at the table with other marcomms disciplines. Despite the huge shifts in the way we do our jobs many of the fundamentals – building relationships, clear communication etc – are much the same and the need for creativity to help our clients stand out in the sea of ‘content’ has never been greater.
What campaign has felt the biggest achievement since your time spent at Fever?
Campaign wise it’s an oldie but I have to say the Oxo Tower takeover to mark the launch of PlayStation 4 a few years ago. Having worked on Xbox for five years where we tried to build a brand with cultural cachet in the shadow of PlayStation it was a real thrill to work on such an iconic brand, on such a huge launch as PlayStation 4. As the best ideas often are, the creative was simple – to take over the Oxo Tower with the PlayStation symbols – the response from fans, the public and the media was phenomenal and the PR launch campaign played a huge role in helping PlayStation smash Xbox in Christmas sales. On a personal level I’m really proud of launching the first PR Week Creative Mentoring Project to encourage more people to move into creative roles – we were blown away with the quality of entries and the calibre of the mentors we got on board for our first year and will be launching the 2020 Project soon so watch this space.
If you could alter one thing about the industry for the better, what would it be?
Despite the number of Creative Directors in agencies rising, the number of females in the role has dropped over the past two years which was a big reason we launched the Creative Mentoring Project. I believe that the best creative comes from real life insights, so we need to push for greater diversity in creative roles or risk coming up with the same types of ideas based on a pretty limited view of the world. Yes, a man can apply empathy and put himself in, say, a mum’s shoes but I believe the best ideas and campaigns are built on the real-life insights, the nuances and subtleties you get from having lived through an experience.