Jessica Becker is the Managing Partner at Manifest New York, the self-described “world’s first global small agency,” with offices in New York, London, and Stockholm.
Balance the Grind spoke to Jessica about her start in PR, working at Manifest London and then heading up the New York office, the changing notion of work-life balance, and more.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your background and career?
I always thought I wanted to be a journalist (like many people who wind up in PR).
But then during my degree in Communications Studies, I was introduced to the worlds of advertising, PR and Communication Arts which basically blended the things I enjoyed the most – writing, being creative and socializing – and decided this was more my kind of route.
I pivoted my focus and did a bunch of free internships during summer holidays, ending up on a graduate scheme at a large agency in London.
I was fortunate to start my career working on massive global brands but I craved the creativity that was missing due to the hugeness of these organizations and the red tape that came with them.
I eventually ended up at the wonderful Manifest London, an award-winning creative comms agency that build brands that change the world.
Here, I was exposed to creativity in abundance. A brave and bright team for who “kick the shit out of the opportunity to be remarkable” was one of their core values.
Not only did I get to work on game-changing projects, but I also got experience with more of the agency-running side of things, which I soon realized could be creative in its own sense.
After a year at the London office, I nagged the company’s founder and CEO, Alex Myers, to let me head up the New York office which then was three people strong. For some crazy reason, he conceded.
And so I’ve been Stateside for the last 2.5 years and now have a bonkers but wonderful team of ten based in DUMBO, Brooklyn, and a portfolio of awesome clients who want to change the world and let us flex our creative muscles to make it a reality.
2) What is your current role and what does it entail on a day to day basis?
This type of job is ideal for those that are frustratingly impatient. And I say that because no two days are ever the same, so you never grow bored.
My role is to run and grow the Manifest offering across America. This involves everything from leading the delivery of bold and brilliant campaigns; to recruiting the best brains in the business to join the family; leading the charge on new business; and supporting each of the team with their career development.
As well as overseeing the team in New York, I work behind the scenes with the company’s CEO, on planning our next move to LA, San Francisco, maybe even Vancouver, who knows, watch this space.
3) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?
It’s a little boring, but keep your to-do list updated at all times. The minute a new piece of work comes onto my plate, I add it to the list (I used to be a pen and paper girl, but now we use Asana across all of our offices and it’s the future!).
Trying to keep it all in your head is a waste of brain space and you’re guaranteed to drop something.
My other trick – start your day a little earlier than everyone else.
Reading all these articles about how the most successful people arise at 5am, do yoga, have a green juice and are on emails by 6am always makes me cringe – but I do see the benefits in having 30 minutes to yourself before the rest of the team come into the office.
It allows me to get my head into the game, get my day’s workload in order before I need to be present to support everyone else.
4) In between your job, life and all your other responsibilities, how do you ensure you find some sort of balance in your life?
Exercise and vacations.
Exercise keeps me sane. I call it movement meditation (because I can’t seem to do actual meditation). 45 minutes where I switch of just, be.
And then holidays! I always enjoyed going away, but I never really understood the psychological benefits of physically removing yourself from the work environment, even if just for a long weekend.
Since moving to New York, I’ve learnt to take vacations and take them properly. I prepare for them weeks in advance, ensure the team and clients are prepped and then delete my Slack.
I’m fully contactable for anything urgent, but I do really try to switch off. And I notice the difference in attitude and efficiency as soon as I’m back.
6) What does work life balance mean to you?
I think this notion of a work life balance is changing. The divide between your work life and your personal life is blurred more than ever.
And it’s not because we’re necessarily working harder, but because work can give us a joy in a way that means it doesn’t need to just be confined to the office.
I think it’s OK to enjoy your work – in fact I think it’s great – and therefore want to think about it, talk about it, even do parts of it within your free time.
The times when I think you need to re-look at it, is when you start to decline social events because of work. Socializing is important for a healthy mind and heart.
7) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?
If you’re having one of those days, move away from your laptop. Put down the pen. Turn off Slack. Go to the gym, get outside, have a cocktail.
Some days it just doesn’t come to you and you can’t beat yourself up about it. But what you can do is call it a day, head home and come back tomorrow and nail it.
Also, surround yourself with people who get it. And by that, I don’t mean they have to understand the intricacies of your job, but who get how important it is to you, who appreciate that it’s a core part of what makes you, you, and with that comes good days and bad days.
As well as being supportive, they can also give you a bit of a reality check when it’s needed.
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