Jennifer Berson, the founder of JENERATION PR, shares her incredible story of breaking free from her golden handcuffs and pursing her creative passion.
With my dark hair, fair skin, and perhaps because I always seem to be in a hurry, I’m often mistaken for a New Yorker. But I’m a true LA Native, through & through.
Growing up here, I knew my life was going to be big, but Hollywood was not calling my name. Southern California is laced with celebrities, high profile businesses and actors mostly striving for fame and fortune.
I wasn’t one of them.
I too felt that desire for greatness, but celebrity status and schmoozing industry-types wasn’t part of my game plan. Initially, I wanted to be a lawyer. So I went to law school and made it happen.
In reality, I actually think I stumbled into law. I was living in Santa Barbara for undergrad at UCSB (go Gauchos!), working as a bank teller, and I didn’t want to come home for the summer. Why on earth would anyone want to leave the beach and head to the San Fernando Valley, straight into 100+ degree temperatures? Not this gal! So I begged my parents to let me stay at school for the summer, and did so by agreeing to study for the LSAT. Then I applied to law school (because, why not?), got accepted to the program at University of Southern California, and enrolled without actually thinking, “do I even want to be a lawyer?”
While in law school school, there’s a frenzy to apply for jobs, and I got sucked in. I attended “on campus interviews,” convinced employers that I would make a great litigator, received an offer, passed the bar exam, and BOOM–now I’m a lawyer.
A CLEAR PATH TO SUCCESS… AND BURNOUT
Working at a big law firm, it didn’t take long for me to realize the inevitable career path. It involved long days and even longer nights.
Work-life balance would be all work and no life.
As I looked around the office searching to find a female role model–one that truly appeared to have the kind of career & family life I knew I wanted–I felt as if I was looking for a needle in a haystack.
The female partners either didn’t have children, or if they did, they rarely discussed them, let alone saw much of them. This was more than a decade ago, so things may have changed by now. But this was my reality when I was a young lawyer, and I knew it wasn’t for me.
I started to lose hope that I’d ever be able to achieve work-life balance as an attorney. I knew I wanted to get married and have kids, but I could see the writing on the wall. Yes, I’d be “successful,” at least by some people’s standards, but I’d live an unfulfilled life on the path to burnout.
This was not a risk I was willing to take.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to get out. All I knew was that I had to make it happen.
MY SECOND ACT
While I was still a lawyer, I started promoting a fragrance brand on the side, unpaid. I just had a strong connection to this company and their products, and a very clear understanding for how they should market it, and promote it to the media. I wrote a letter to the owner of the business, asking her for some sample products that I could share with the media. One day, a huge box of perfumes, soaps and lotions arrived at my law firm office, and I felt like I had won the lottery! I started “pitching” these products, telling a compelling story about this brand, everywhere I could see a fit. I started to get some traction for my pitches, landed a few press features, and felt like I was truly on to something big.
I thought to myself, “If I can make a career out of this, and get paid to do this every single day, I know I have found my ideal career!”
In 2005, with zero training and no paid experience, I decided I was going to start my own public relations and social media marketing agency, Jeneration PR, to promote baby, beauty and lifestyle brands that I loved and believed in.
After I booked my first paying client and saved up some emergency cash to cover my mortgage, I took the leap. At the time, my family and friends thought I was crazy leaving my high paying corporate job, but I knew my life was meant for something different. Something that better suited my personality.
I worked hard, built relationships, and earned a name in the PR industry. Word got out and things started getting busy. I left the lawyer lifestyle and have never looked back.
For me, being an entrepreneur isn’t solely about freedom, making your own schedule and living the laptop lifestyle. It’s a personal development journey that teaches you about yourself in the deepest, rawest form.
FEELING LIKE A FRAUD
In the early days, I constantly felt like a fraud. I’m sure you’ve been there too. Lately, we call it “Imposter Syndrome,” but it’s the same thing–feeling like your own accomplishments are luck, or that you’ve simply tricked other people into believing you’re smarter or more skilled than you really are.
Thoughts of, “Why would people hire a lawyer to do their PR?” and “That was a lucky break–I probably can’t make that happen again,” would creep into my head when I first started my business.
It wasn’t until several years into my business in 2011, when I found myself in the green room at the Ellen Degeneres Show with two clients I landed on their coveted Mother’s Day episode. On the very same day, another client was in New York making her “TODAY Show Expert” debut.
It finally hit me. I thought, “Ok, I guess I really am good at this after all.” Maybe I’m not a fraud…
From that moment on, my confidence began to soar. Today, I have clients that are publicly traded and worth billions of dollars (Yes, billions with a “B”… I can hardly wrap my head around that!).
My career has taken a complete 180-degree turn, and I feel so lucky with the direction of my professional and family life. I now have a thriving business that still excites me every day, a loving husband (also an entrepreneur), two awesome, fun, happy boys, and a stellar team that supports my long and short-term business goals.
I get to work with brands that I am proud of, and excited to share their products.
I’m most proud of two things:
- The opportunities and exposure my clients have received. Their businesses have skyrocketed, been acquired by private equity firms & larger corporations, and business owners have said things like, “Hiring Jen was the smartest thing we’ve ever done.”
- I’ve been able to create the work-life balance that I didn’t think was possible as a litigator at a big LA law firm. I’m able to take my boys to school in the morning and create my own schedule around parties and after-school activities.
I’m also still growing as a business owner, leader and full-time working mom. I’m far from perfect– the kitchen is typically a mess, there’s a stack of papers on my desk a mile high at any given moment– but I have full confidence in my system, foundation and work ethic to continue down the entrepreneurial path.
My family has come a long way too. They now completely support my decision to leave my legal career behind, and are happy that everything turned out just fine. I think my business has exceeded all of our expectations, and I am truly grateful for that.
A NEW DEFINITION OF SUCCESS
I recently pitched myself as a guest on a popular podcast that I listen to often, and I was immediately rejected. “You need to bring in 7 figures a year or you do not meet the requirements to be a guest on this show.” Well, ok then. That podcast host may view a 7 figure annual salary as an important metric for success, but I don’t.
To me, success means having the flexibility in my life to be there for my children. To attend their doctor appointments, t-ball games, winter performances, and class birthday parties. To be their “room mom,” a volunteer art docent, to have the bandwidth to fight for my son—recently diagnosed with ASD—to get him the accommodations he needs at school and home.
Success means having a business I love, promoting clients I believe in that value my contributions, and doing work that has a true impact on their businesses.
And lately, success means paying it forward. Sharing what I’ve learned over the last decade with others, teaching entrepreneurs so they can grow their brands, and giving them strategies to be able to work on their own terms, just as I do, and enjoy the benefits that come with being in control of your own time.
I created a community called Jeneration Insiders, where business owners all around the world connect, share ideas, seek help, and where I provide free weekly training and daily motivation, tips and strategies to push them to accomplish more in their businesses.
I took everything I know how to do in my PR business for our retainer clients, and created a step by step Master Course, Press Success, so entrepreneurs who can’t afford our monthly retainers can still have the benefit of our know-how, and secure amazing press features for themselves.
I absolutely love teaching business owners how to discover their unique story, share their message, and get their brand the attention it deserves from the media.
Being in business for myself means that I can explore all options, and avenues that are interesting to me. And the best part is sharing what I’ve discovered with my community of entrepreneurs, clients and students so they can grow too.
President, Jeneration PR