Both Sides of the Coin: An Interview with CHEN PR’s Director, Jennifer Torode
Uncategorized Posted Jul 12, 2019 by Gabrielle Kondracki
In her eighth year at CHEN PR serving as Director and Office Decor Guru I had the pleasure of sitting down with our beloved Jennifer Torode. What for exactly? With only my big toe in the door of public relations, I wanted to pick her brain on the path that led her into the public relations world in the first place and ask her to share her experiences, lessons and thoughts about working for both the corporate and agency side of PR. Only having experience working for an agency, I thought it was about time I learn about the other side of the coin. But enough about me, let’s get to the good stuff!
Gabby: Of course I already know you, but for the reader’s sake, how about we start with: What’s your name? What’s your position at CHEN PR? How long have you been working at CHEN PR?
Jennifer (JT): My name is Jennifer Torode. For as long as I can remember, my work mates and clients have always called me JT. I am a director here at CHEN PR and will be here eight years this week—July 11 to be exact.
JT: My day to day work day can vary depending on what is happening that week with the agency and of course, our clients, who are mostly in the security industry. If clients are launching a product or are planning to announce funding, research and new programs or executive, etc. then I am planning, pitching, and prepping along with my teams and managing calls. A “typical” day starts with a cup of coffee, writing out my To-Do-List, which includes top priorities. To keep me on track, I have gotten into the habit of opening my calendar for that day and the next few to get a bird’s eye view of my meetings, calls, etc. so I can plan and tackle accordingly.
I meet daily with all my teams to discuss what our game plan is for that day and/or week and what activities and tasks we need to update each other on or support one another with. Throughout the day, I scan Twitter and hit up some key business, security and channel sites to see what the headlines are to educate myself and to see if there are any opportunities for my clients to weight in on as experts. I also do news searches on clients as Google Alerts and the likes may not be immediately hitting my email inbox.
Gabby: Where did you go to college and what did you study? What led you into the PR world originally and where was your first job?
JT: I went to Salem State University and majored in advertising and minored in marketing. My first job was at a pre-CAD vendor called Invention Machine Corporation in Boston. I started as a marketing coordinator. After two years, I landed a job at a UK-based company Sophos, a B2B anti-virus vendor at the time, who had just opened their first US office. Apparently, those who had come over from HQ to help start the subsidiary got home sick and moved back and that opened the door for me and a few others. I was a marketing specialist and was a jack of all trades. I was “tossed into the fire” so to speak but that is the best way to learn in my opinion. I managed print advertising and direct mail, large trade shows, PR, some analyst relations and anything that the team needed help with.
Gabby: What was your role at Sophos? Did you grow within the company or stay in the same position?
JT: If you look at my LinkedIn profile, I had the honor of working at Sophos for 12 years in various roles in marketing and communications. I learned so much and met a lot of really incredible people and had the opportunity to travel both here in the U.S. and internationally, which was amazing. I was very fortunate to have many incredibly seasoned bosses that I adored. I aligned myself with mentors from various disciplines, and even vendors helped me along my career journey—from pros in direct mail industry, creative agencies, trade show booth manufacturers, etc. As the company grew, I focused more on managing numerous large trade shows in the US and handled everything from booth creative, logistics, and selection of booth staff, etc. and always had my hand PR. I eventually transitioned full time into PR and that is where I’ve remained.
Gabby: What were the roles of corporate PR? What were your responsibilities/expectations? What did you like about the corporate side?
JT: When I was doing corporate PR, I got to work with a variety of teams and execs, and coordinating across all functions was vital during any product launch, research or announcing strategic partnerships, funding, acquisitions, customer wins, channel program successes, etc. At times, the PR team would also help sales in various regions and verticals where they needed more visibility to build awareness and boost sales. It was my job to work with the head of PR and align our PR strategy with product management, international PR teams, executives and so on. As the company has many products, I’d help get products reviewed and managed the process from start to finish. I also helped with internal communications.
I really enjoyed having direct interactions with all my peers and the executive team and my colleagues across the globe. You are one company with a common goal. When you work in corporate PR, you partner with a PR agency of your choice to help with both strategy and execution of your PR program but you essentially are the client and the PR agency follows your lead to achieve your goals.
JT: During my time at Sophos, CHEN PR was the company’s agency of record for several years and I loved working with them. I worked directly with CHEN’s Partners Kevin Kosh and Chris Carleton and Bryan Grillo. We worked seamlessly together, building awareness in all the right pubs and we worked hard and had a lot of fun. As the company switched gears and leadership, we changed agencies, which is very common. I always stayed in touch with CHEN given that we forged a great relationship.
After 12 years at Sophos and more acquisitions and new execs, I found myself looking for a change and one day, I got a call from Kevin as CHEN PR was looking for a manager. Given he worked with me, knew my skill set, work ethic and personality, he asked me to come work for CHEN PR. For weeks, I was very hesitant as I heard horror stories of life inside a PR agency—long hours, too many clients to juggle, demanding clients that run you ragged. I definitely bought into that PR agency stereotype. After having a few conversations with Kevin, he dismantled all my concerns and I decided to throw caution to the wind and said yes. For one, I needed a change and I also knew that Kevin and team were really awesome at PR and just a really genuine group. Admittedly, going from a large organization to a small PR boutique agency was a big adjustment initially but I have zero regret.
Gabby: What are the roles of the agency side? What are your responsibilities/expectations? What do you like about the agency side?
JT: PR is essentially the same on the agency side, but you are at the mercy of your client and your job is to help them carry out their charter. Every client has different goals and expectations and they may be at different stages—such as a newly funded company of 20-30 employees versus a well-established company on their way to IPO and beyond with thousands of employees.
I’m responsible for both the strategic and day-to-day management of several high tech clients, helping each achieve greater visibility in targeted trade, business and vertical media outlets as well as maintaining relationships with key industry analysts when and where clients need help.
I like the agency side as you get to work with various technologies and variety is always nice. It also gives us the opportunity to work with various types of companies, personalities and reporters and publications. You also don’t have to be in the trenches of what goes on behind the scenes with a company.
Gabby: Any last words of advice for people deciding whether to go corporate or agency? Any words of wisdom you like to live by both career wise and personally?
JT: I think any PR professional should work on both the corporate and agency side at some point in their career as the experiences are different. I have a better understanding, appreciation and respect for each. There are different stress factors and pros and cons but if you’re with the right company and team, the sky’s the limit.