One thing missing from my body is a lyric from New Found Glory’s Catalyst album. I’m not too sure if that’s the case for Jen Appel, but I am 100% that she and I share the same amount of love for the band and the record. Growing up in Florida, she spent time back in the day going to a lot of NFG shows, so when it was time to start her own PR company she said, “Catalyst seemed like the perfect way to encompass the two together.” The Catalyst Publicity Group was born and before you go thinking this was just a music fan who stumbled across a business venture, think again. Jen has paid her dues, hit the books and could probably school anyone on the world of social media.
We’ll soon learn about her journey that took her from intern to CEO or her own company, but before that – I also want to note that music isn’t all that this woman does. After her mother and grandmother were diagnosed with breast cancer, she knew she just couldn’t sit around and wait for something to happen. She not only started volunteering with the American Cancer Society, but in time she became their Publicity Chair, saying, “It was an incredible thing to be awarded that position and take what I love every day for such a good cause,” adding, “This past year I was selected to be on the State Advisory board where I worked with dozens of other executive committee members to ensure that the MSABC 2015 walks around the state of Florida would be spectacular.” It doesn’t stop there – she promised there’s more of that work to come this year.
Along with her charitable efforts, Jen Appel will be a part of a stellar SXSW panel featuring a few dudes I’ve come to know over the years thanks to blogging. Now get to know even more about one of the hardest working, inspiring woman in the PR game.
Kendra: You have not only a BA but a MA, but you also have a ton of real world experience when it comes to communications. How much of your success do you attribute to book smarts and how much do you give credit to when it comes to street smarts?
Jen Appel: I would say it is a bit of both. When I was going through my undergraduate program a lot of my internships showed me what I enjoyed about PR and what I disliked. It was a great learning experience to see both sides of the equation and what type of PR I wanted to really get into.
When it came to school, I would say my Masters program was such an important time in my career. Going directly from my undergraduate program to a Master’s program that was filled with 30+ page research pages to intense and thought provoking tests. The program made me think differently, which I still attribute to my work today. I had to turn around papers in a very short time which has helped me over the years when turning around press releases so quickly. As for my work experience, I learn something new every day and will continue improving as each situation arises. My education taught me how to be prepared for all of the storms I face.
Kendra: Musicians have always needed publicists but when you graduated with a BA in Communications, social media was still in a bit of an infancy. How do you feel the popularity of social media platforms have transformed your industry over the past five or so years?
Jen Appel: It has absolutely transformed the industry. Funny enough my first real-world paying job was at a marketing agency as their Social Media Manager. I handled dozens of non-profit accounts across the Miami Dade County. Since social media was still developing (I believe they still would only allow one photo album at that time with limited functions like Facebook offers now) I was unfortunately cut from the job because it was not seen as a necessity. From there I learned that PR would have to begin incorporating social media strategy in every campaign. It was no longer a separate entity but rather another platform for directed coverage. I enjoy handling social media accounts and find that there is so much one can do to help PR and vice versa. Emerging publicists will absolutely implement social media coverage into their work and I am sure in another five years the industry will continue shifting.
Kendra: You’re the only woman I’m talking to this month who owns her own company. When you made that decision to go all in, what was the first hurdle you had to get over?
Jen Appel: Wow, that is amazing! I made the decision to go all in after an unfortunate hurdle at a previous job. I learned what I was not interested in and what really sparked my interest most. While not every job is glitz and glamor, I learned a lot in my short tenure. It was important to see and observe.
When I started my own company, I think the first hurdle I faced was more of a personal feat. I never took a business class in college, I knew nothing about LLC’s or incorporating a business. This was all very new territory to me. I also set realistic goals that if and only if I was not hitting a certain amount of income each month then I would have to go back to square one. I was fortunate enough to link up with my partner Chrissy who tackled a lot of the first year hurdles with my head on.
Throughout the first year we learned so much from trusting editors, to trusting clients, and how to avoid building the wrong team members. It was a pivotal year of hurdles. If it wasn’t for our strong will to never give up, I am not sure we would be standing where we are today. Starting a business and successfully making it through the hardest of times is no laughing matter. There were months and weeks where it was easier to walk away. I am thankful and fortunate that we didn’t give up hope.
Kendra: Now you’re working with artists you grew up with like Cartel. When you land a band like that, does your 15-year-old self have time to have moment, or does the adult Jen take over and tell your inner teenager to get back to business?
Jen Appel: Oh absolutely! I remember seeing Cartel for the first time in 2006, maybe earlier and being overly excited as anyone would be. I still get excited when I see them play. We were fortunate to work their insanely popular 10 year anniversary of Chroma. I would be lying if I didn’t say that Chrissy and I were side stage screaming our heads off. It is fun, it is a moment where as publicists we are proud to be working with a band that not only respects our work but that we can enjoy working with.
If anything being such a fan for so many years just fuels us to work harder. Regardless if we grew up loving the band or they are just an emerging act it is vital to have interest in the band. It is important to like their music, appreciate their skill set, and most importantly believe in their story. It doesn’t matter if 15-year-old Jen loved the band back then or loves a new band now, it is all the same exciting feeling to me.
Kendra: I’ve noticed, at least when it comes to the PR companies I deal with every day, that it’s a female heavy occupation. Even Catalyst’s team has a lot of ladies on the roster. Why do you think more women head towards PR?
Jen Appel: It is definitely a trend when it comes to PR. I believe our team just happened to consist of all ladies. We have a Brand’s Manager, Blake who is the sole male at the moment and we’ve had several male publicists in the past. I believe that the industry could use more male counterparts to occupy the space. It is nice to mix things up every once in awhile! And kudos to all the men that are publicists in such a heavy-female occupation, it is inspiring to see so many individuals go after their dream career no matter what the stereotype is.
Kendra: You’ll also be speaking at SXSW this year. Who will you be sharing the stage with?
Jen Appel: This year I am speaking with James Shotwell of Haulix and Under The Gun Review, Rey Roldan of Reybee Production, and Jacob Tender who is a contributor with Alternative Press Magazine. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing these gentlemen for several years so I am looking forward to speaking on a panel with them.
Kendra: I’d love if you made us a mixtape featuring five tunes by some great gals on the Catalyst roster.