Inside Track: Event planner responds to clients' needs for PR
Jessica Ann Tyson recently transitioned her company into a full-service public relations firm.
“Can you keep a secret?” was the theme in early September when Jessica Ann Tyson invited clients, colleagues and friends to the JW Marriott for a special event. The secret, which Tyson revealed that evening, was that her 12-year-old event-planning business, Events by Jessica Ann, would transition into a full-service public relations firm, J.A. PR Group.
Tyson created Events by Jessica Ann in 2003 after her husband “took away her allowance.”
“I’m a little high maintenance, so I asked him what I could do for extra cash and he said, ‘You need to start charging people for the parties and events you volunteer to plan’” she said.
“So I started researching the topic and found out event planning was one of the hottest growing careers. From there I decided to get myself involved, and that’s when my need for cash married my passion, and I began my company.”
Tyson grew Events by Jessica Ann into a well-established firm.
“Growing Events by Jessica Ann meant that I had to put myself out there,” she said. “I had to believe in myself when no one else would. I had to believe that I could walk up to just about anybody and ask for just about anything — and that meant people’s business. I’m not a shy person, but that is a lot when you, like everyone else, fear rejection.”
JESSICA ANN TYSON
In 2012, Tyson was named one of the GRBJ’s 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan and she is a member of GRBJ’s Forty under 40 classes of 2011 and 2012.
She also received the Latina Wings Hispanic Community Service Engagement Award in 2012, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce awards for Minority Business of the Year in 2008 and Small Business of the Year in 2007, and West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s award for Business of the Year in 2006.
Recently, Tyson has seen her clients’ public relations needs increase substantially, which she said prompted her decision to form J.A. PR Group, which better reflects the firm’s primary services now, though it will still offer event planning services.
“PR is now going to be a large focus,” she said. “We would do consulting and event management (and) they can expect that, but now, because we are focused on those value-added things, they can expect us to step up even more so.”
Tyson said in addition to external communications services, she plans to assist clients with internal communications, as well — something she said is unique about her firm.
She said while it should be an important piece of a company’s PR strategy, employee relationships is an often-forgotten aspect.
“We’ve done a lot of employee relations parties — whether it’s the average Christmas party, retirement party, or the new CEO is coming on board,” she said. “We’ve noticed sometimes people internally don’t get along very well, and it’s usually because of a relationship or lack of relationship. If you have healthy relationships with your employees, your bottom line is going to be better.”
Along with the name and branding change, Tyson had her Kentwood office space, located at 2180 44th St. SE, Suite 205, overhauled to fit the new direction.
“We are pretty excited,” she said. “The vibe we are going for is youthfulness. It’s very contemporary and current.”
Local stylist Jeremiah White, of Reflections, designed the space.
Tyson has five staff members and is looking to add a project manager to the team.
“I believe that we have one of the best teams now,” she said. “We are still, if not more, creative, more relevant and more cutting-edge.”
She is in the midst of planning one of the firm’s signature events, the Legacy Ball, which is a celebration of African-American culture during Black History Month. The event is in its eighth year.
“It’s an extremely prestigious celebration for Black History Month,” she said. “What is so cool is, everybody is there — black, white, Asian, Hispanic.”
She also plans an annual Legacy Ball in Kalamazoo and a Legacy Luncheon event at the Amway.
As mentioned, Tyson has earned several recognitions over the years, no small feat for a black- and woman-owned business, particularly in a city with a dearth of minority-owned businesses.
During J.A. PR Group’s launch party, Patti Griswold, Comerica Bank’s senior vice president of retail banking, spoke about the challenging environment minority business owners face. Griswold noted only 7 percent of privately held businesses are owned by African-Americans and only 28 percent of privately held businesses are owned by women.
In addition, only 50 percent of small businesses succeed beyond four years.
“While the numbers are discouraging for current percentage of businesses owned by women and African-Americans, the good news is that business ownership is sharply rising within both of these segments,” Griswold said.
Tyson said she hasn’t experienced some of the struggles she knows other minority business owners have. In part, she thinks that’s due to the type of business she operates and also because of her skills at relationship building.
“When I first started, the struggle was more about building the brand and the consistency and what were we really offering, and producing solid quality events,” she said.
“Because for the last 12 years we’ve done that really successfully, we’ve built great relationships. We’ve been consistent. We’ve changed and evolved with the times.”
Still, she knows minority-owned businesses face additional challenges and wants to help. She said her expertise in public relations would be particularly helpful to both minority-owned businesses looking to connect with other companies and to companies looking to connect with minority-owned businesses.
“There are a lot of mainstream businesses and community organizations that have challenges connecting with minority communities,” she said.
“It can also be challenging getting minorities and organizations to understand why they need PR to grow their business and allow us to help them achieve their goals.”
Mykala Mayhanagian, J.A. PR Group’s director of communications, reflected on Tyson’s ability to maintain relationships.
“When we are done with an event, she doesn’t just say, ‘OK, see you next year,’” Mayhanagian said. “She reaches out again, says thank you again, sends little presents. She always goes above and beyond, and that is huge in maintaining those (relationships).”
Part of Tyson’s ease with relationship building has to do with her outgoing personality and her propensity for keeping busy. She also has an entrepreneurial spirit and likes the rush of staying afloat.
“I think being a business owner, you work a little harder. Not to say the layperson doesn’t work hard, but I don’t know where my next meal is coming from so I have to work really, really hard to make sure everything is in place, flows and feels good. I’m a perfectionist in that way, too.”