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On the Record: PLUG’s Lara Jefferies

On the Record: PLUG’s Lara Jefferies

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Lara Jefferies (pictured), founder and managing director of PLUG, started her career at a London-based PR agency that provided her a breadth of experience and exposure to different industries, as well as enabling her to learn from different managers and directors. 

In fact, this experience was hugely influential in Jefferies’ vision for PLUG. Now as an agency leader, she has a flexible management style and always encourages her team to try new things and maintain a mixture of clients in a variety of industries. Jefferies believes that creating a work culture of thoughtfulness, openness and respect provides a healthy working environment for her team members. 

Find out more about Jefferies' journey in public relations thus far and who inspires her. 

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE:  Describe your management style 

My management style has evolved over the years and continues to do so as I strongly believe in staying curious, always learning and being open to change. 

There is no “one size fits all” management style if we want our team members to feel heard, understood and respected, and to do it in a way that fits our persona and the business.

Working with individuals who are all at different stages of their own journeys it’s important to figure out what motivates and inspires them, as well as what their core values and personal goals look like. This provides valuable insight into how each person wants to be managed and what is going to help them grow and enjoy their work life. 

I always try to have an empathic and positive mindset with a focus on creating a work culture of thoughtfulness, openness, respect and compassion at PLUG.

plug team aeee

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What was your first PR gig?

My first PR gig as a university grad was an unpaid internship at a fashion PR company in central London. On the final day I remember thinking “There’s no way I’m doing this for a living!”. 

Famous last words as one month later I landed my first full time job at another (much more down-to-earth) London-based PR agency. The job was a fantastic training ground, providing a breadth of experience and exposure to different industries. 

I worked on everything – from photochromic lenses to menstrual products to turkeys! 

The agency had a flexible structure enabling junior staff members to learn from different managers and directors. This experience was hugely influential in my vision for PLUG. 

I strongly encourage my team to try new things and maintain a mixture of clients in a variety of industries as it promotes a curious, growth mindset and keeps things interesting! We also have a flexible structure to maximise the team’s exposure to different management styles. 

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Why a career in PR?

At university I fought hard to study what I was interested in, a course combining comparative religion and philosophy to gain a better understanding of human behaviour. I didn’t give too much thought to what I would do afterwards but I knew it would be heavily people-focused and coaching-centric. 

After graduating, I was disappointed by the career support provided as it seemed that a career in “advertising” was the only recommendation for bachelor of arts graduates. I applied to the big name ad agencies but felt it was limiting having to choose between “client servicing” and “creative”. 

My now husband suggested I look into PR which provides the opportunity to be both creative and hone your skills in client servicing.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Who was the mentor who most influenced you and why?

I have a number of people who have strongly influenced me throughout my career. Interestingly, all of them had very similar qualities and management styles. 

In my first job, I had one manager who was very enthusiastic, positive and kind and I thought that people might take advantage of her “generosity”. I was completely wrong – juniors, including myself, worked twice as hard to make sure we never let her down. 

At PLUG, I had a client for many years who would brief-in high level objectives only and then stand back and let us create. She gave her partners immense trust and was always incredibly kind, thoughtful and encouraging. 

I often reflect on these special people and I’m inspired by how they leveraged the power of kindness and collaboration to produce outstanding results.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Your biggest blunder in your career? How did you resolve it?

One of my biggest blunders was in management. A few years after I founded PLUG, I made the mistake of keeping a “bad apple” around for too long. That mistake caused a lot of distraction, wasted emotion and energy that could have been redirected more positively. It caused tension and discord within the team. 

As the saying goes – misery loves company. It was a tricky situation to navigate, but after parting ways with the individual, things quickly returned to normal. Since then, I spend more time on hiring but also checking in with new hires and the team to ensure a good fit.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Harshest thing said to you in your career?

It’s a tough industry and you end up being the recipient of a number of harsh comments. You also end up saying harsh things that you regret later. Some of my key learnings from this are:

Take the feedback. If there’s something valid in the harsh comment, receive it, learn from it and get better.

Don’t take it personally. A myriad of small moments (mostly unrelated to you) have led up to someone blurting out a harsh comment. Once you’ve assessed whether there’s anything valuable to learn, then just let it go. 

I had one experience as a junior when I had gotten up to make a coffee and one very senior director (who I had a lot of respect for and still do!) snapped, “You walk so slowly, I just want to kick you”. I obviously didn’t say anything at the time but held on to that comment for many years. 

After I left the company, I plucked up the courage to ask her about it. She said: “If anyone ever says something like that to you again, tell them to go to hell!”. Lesson learned.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Harshest thing you have said to someone?

Whilst I can’t recall the specifics, I know that I’ve been guilty of delivering some less- than-flattering remarks and regretted them later. As somebody that’s not naturally confrontational, my response when things got heated in the moment has appeared passive-aggressive. 

I became more aware of this as my career progressed and I worked hard to reframe how I react under pressure, ensuring it’s considered, direct, to the point and with clear intent. 

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What is the hardest part about your job?

The hardest part of my job is keeping a million balls in the air – from key client management to developing ideas and strategy for new business proposals, looking out for new talent and keeping a close eye on the financials. It’s all go, all the time, which is also what makes the job so invigorating, rewarding and never, ever boring. I’ve never looked at the clock and wondered why it’s only early afternoon – it feels like there’s never enough hours in the day. 

The variety of work and the breadth of industries we deal with also challenges us and means that we constantly have to innovate. It’s hard, but oh the thrill!

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Biggest misconception about PR? 

PR has a lingering reputation as an industry you get into when you’re not sure what you want to do. 

People think it attracts those with a soft work ethic who are only interested in attending parties and that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are so many facets to the job at every level in a PR's career, as well as huge demands from a skillset perspective. 

A PR professional needs to be a skilled writer, an excellent communicator, an effective networker, a solid coach, a great manager, a creative idea powerhouse, an analytical thinker, and the list goes on. 

From a hiring and HR perspective, it often baffles me that PR professionals have the ability to excel in so many different areas. It’s something that I wish as an industry we talked about and celebrated more.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: How do you measure your own personal success? 

My measure of personal success has changed with experience and age. Early on in my career, success was defined by the numbers: salary and promotions. 

After founding PLUG, the success metric remained the same with the overarching focus on revenue, profit, new and exciting clients and new headcount. Whilst the numbers will always matter and be part of my personal measure of success, it's no longer the only thing.

lara and plug team ajpgg

Now, most importantly, I seek fulfilment from my work, both from a relationship standpoint and from the quality of work we offer. Building and surrounding myself with great people and fulfilling relationships – both clients and team members who share values of trust, respect and partnership – brings me a lot of joy. 

I also take great pride in doing the best work that we can, constantly challenging ourselves in terms of the creativity and tactics that we leverage.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE:  One thing you would say to a newbie in the PR industry? 

Always go above and beyond, even when you’re dealing with the smallest of tasks. Stick your hand up and volunteer to help out with additional tasks that are out of your comfort zone (and pay grade). 

Showing the willingness to go the extra mile is everything: an incredible opportunity to learn and grow, and it will get you noticed.

Remember that actions are louder than words. Let the quality of your work and your work ethic speak for itself. 

Finally, be humble and be a good person. It shows a huge amount of maturity. The first couple of years for a PR professional are heavily admin-based and quite frankly not that fun. 

We know these tasks are not the most challenging or invigorating, but every good PR person needs to understand the full process, from news monitoring to clipping coverage and creating the all-important reports for clients. 

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE:  One thing you hate most about the PR industry? 

Hate is a strong word. There are a number of things I find frustrating: from being pigeon-holed as just a media relations service to building extensive proposals as part of the new business pitching process, which can be a drain on time and resources when things are busy. 

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Have you ever wanted to try starting up your own PR firm? Why/Why not?

I started my own PR firm at 24 years old. It was born purely out of opportunity, naivety and the resulting bravado. 

Reflecting on that now, these were the building blocks of success. Sometimes you just need to go for it and not over-analyse the situation. Hard work and drive can take you far.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: How has PR evolved over the last five years? 

It’s been extremely exciting to see the PR industry evolve over the past few years as the shift in how we communicate, receive and share information has accelerated. 

From digital transformation to the emergence of new technologies and the plethora of social media platforms, we now have so many varied tools and channels at our disposal to help shape and share our storytelling. 

The pace of innovation as well as changing consumer behaviour demands that we get even more creative and thoughtful about how we share our narratives with different stakeholders and audiences.

The PR industry, which has been underappreciated in the past, has also undergone a large transformation in terms of its perceived importance.

During challenging periods including Hong Kong’s social unrest and the global pandemic, the role of PR highlighted the importance of reputation management and the vulnerability of companies who failed to have a crisis strategy in place. 

Lastly, whilst PR agencies have been toying with integrated offering for a while, it’s been exciting to see the industry really hit stride in the last five years when it comes to providing seamless and effective holistic strategies. In the future, I would like to encourage more brands and companies to explore integrated services with their PR partner and look at how to bolster reputation and profile-build beyond the usual tactics.

Related articles:

On the Record: SPRG's Vivian Fok
On the Record: FleishmanHillard Hong Kong’s Patrick Yu
On the Record: Edelman Hong Kong's Delicia Tan
On the Record: Hill+Knowlton Strategies Hong Kong's Madison Wai

 

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