How I built one of London’s best PR agencies from scratch

Read how Jessica Patterson started one of London’s top PR agencies to pay off her university debts.

What motivates someone to start a business – and drives them to make it a huge success? For some it can be following their passion, or creating the lifestyle they want. But for Jessica Patterson, owner of London PR agency JPR Media Group, it was debt.

Find out how discovering she owed her university £40,000 drove Jessica to launch one of London’s best PR agencies (and how she paid off her entire debt in just three months!).

How I built one of London’s best PR agencies

What do you do as a woman immigrant with £40,000 worth of debt in a foreign country with no financial support, no family backing, no partners, and limited time? Create one of the best PR agencies in London in one year!

That’s what I did. I don’t consider myself an entrepreneur. I’m definitely not better than anyone. And I’m certainly not a business person.

I knew nothing about business and I still have a lot to learn, but I transformed that need to get out of debt into a financially successful company in 12 months. And from the day I made the decision to create a PR company, it was making a profit.

Starting was the hardest part

Why then did it take so long to start? Starting was the hardest part and, as a generally happy person, my motivation was an urgency to pay off my bills literally to get back to zero.

Let’s start from the beginning, to the psychology of it all. I read a book called They F*** You Up by Oliver James, which is based on the idea that all the relationships you create in life are based on those you formed with your family when you were aged three months to six years old. It’s not black and white, but that’s what it is.

I was adopted into a loving family when I was born. My parents were great – both intelligent and hard working. My father was quietly supportive of me and very pragmatic. My mother passionate, dramatic, creative. They both were open-minded, and pushed me to do my best.

My mother was stricter and bit more competitive, knowing my potential and pushing me to stick to ballet, writing, being a coxswain in rowing.

I was a tenacious child, spoiled, smart, a creator, a troublemaker with straight As, and a tester of rules. I became quiet and reclusive during my awkward high school years, and attended university two years younger before anyone else after having skipped grades. I didn’t attend my courses but loved my hours at rowing.

I arrived in London knowing no one

After three years at university, I was 19 and wanted to travel. I had an argument with my father and left America to come to London, not knowing anyone.

From then up to starting my own PR agency two years ago, I worked for twelve years in fashion PR, corporate events, beauty PR, luxury magazine advertising, fashion and beauty magazine advertising, luxury business to business publishing, luxury brand partnerships for a hotel, and public relations and promotions for West End and Chelsea nightclubs.

Most people get jobs through their networks

Being in London for 14 years, I have acknowledged a few things about being in the luxury industry. Most people get jobs because of their network, not because of their qualifications.

So if you want to work for a luxury brand or PR agency, establish your network.

If you have the advantage of being from the country you are currently living with, you should have already made a network of friends based on where you were born, what schools you went to, who you have lived with. These people are irreplaceable; friendships lead to business.

I lost my motivation

So, back to the moment right before I started my company. What happened to the ambitious, smart, over achieving girl who finished university level statistics and conceptual physics by the time I was 14?

How did I get to £40,000 in debt with a job as a PR in nightclub at the age of 30? Life happened. And with life’s ups and downs, I lost my motivation.

I accepted jobs offered to me. Based on my network, I actually hadn’t applied for a job for years because within my network in publishing, luxury brands and clubs – there was someone always out there headhunting me, offering me interesting jobs which I would take.

Always getting offered jobs is a positive and a negative. A positive in one way as that means your previous work has a reputation for success. A negative way as you are not controlling your fate, you are letting others decide for you.

The amount of money I owed was a shock

So I turned 30. My birthday party was sponsored by Hotel Café Royal and Uber with bottles of Tattinger champagne, 14 staff, a bouncy castle and the resulting party pics being featured in UK publications Tatler and The Handbook. Sounds great, right?

With a deeper look, I was having the time of my life, enjoying going to parties and spending all my salary by week three of each month. I didn’t think about my future. I did, and still do, live in the moment.

The change came with the debts sent to me by my mother from my university. The money I owed was a shock considering I was on athletic scholarship and academic grants.

My university, the University of Southern California, is one of the top 10 most expensive universities in the world, and every year’s tuition and fees is over $65,000.

My debts changed my life (in a good way)

I received the debts two years ago and they changed my life. I simply posted on Facebook that I was starting a PR company (god knows how I would or did but it happened). To my surprise, two hundred plus people liked that post. It seemed I had some supporters.

I didn’t take out a loan or borrow money from anyone. I was renting so I still had to feed myself, pay my rent, and pay off my debts in the three month deadline I gave myself.

And you know what? I achieved it. I managed to bring in over £40,000 in three months and paid it all off.

How did I repay my debt in three months?

How? I worked hard. It was as simple as that. Guidance on business accounts, debt collectors, employee contracts, client contracts, website terms and conditions, the actual website, my video business cards, my marketing material – that advice came from accountants and solicitors.

My employees now have strengths that I lack. Organisation, attention to detail, polish, patience. I choose staff that are amazing, hard-working, consistent, loyal and who achieve the unachievable.

What I learned from my years as a coxswain is that you are as strong as your weakest link. My staff all need to be strong and consistent.

Whatever makes you happy – go do it

Being a woman and immigrant in England, have I had any aggressive or oppressive treatment because of my sex or nationality? Yes of course.

How people treat you along the way and whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter. Literally, who cares? The tough survive and prosper. Your gender, age, nationality, class, sexual preference, religion, political choice does not define you nor does it serve as any good excuse why you can’t be successful.

Whatever your motivation, whether it’s starting a business, being a full time mother, working for a bespoke company that makes you happy, go do it.

Jessica Patterson is owner of JPR Media Group, a London PR Agency specialising in fashion PR in London and restaurant PR.