During lockdown last year, a classmate and I tapped into a shared passion to start a local business selling freshly baked focaccia. There was a lot to learn – baking at scale, keeping compliant with emerging COVID guidelines, finding an audience, marketing the business, and unearthing some financial savvy. While the business – aptly named JJ Focaccia – was small and only active for a few months during the pandemic, I came away from the experience with valuable lessons that are helping me understand and contribute to the complex landscape of public relations I am in today.

As a student looking towards the future, one tends to think about degree choices that can prepare for a career in PR. Many are appropriate, from communications and psychology to history and business. But as Benjamin Franklin once said, “experience is the best teacher,” and running JJ Focaccia helped me develop insights and skills I find myself accessing every day during my internship at Ruder Finn UK. Here are a few:

Understanding the product

When asked about the origins of her success in an interview with Vogue, beauty mogul Huda Kattan said “We don’t sell products, we sell emotions.” When developing the marketing strategy for JJ Focaccia, I realised it wasn’t just about selling bread that tasted good. We were selling comfort during a time of intense anxiety. Like any brand, global or local, it was important to get our narrative right early. Effective brand narratives capture its attributes and reach the heart and mind of its audience.  In order to create punchy, impactful media content at Ruder Finn, I always need to thoroughly familiarise myself with the client’s brand narrative and offerings through reading previous content developed, their website, socials, and more.

Knowing your audience

The village JJ Focaccia served is called Tockington, a small village with an aging British population, so eye-catching TikToks or Instagram stories wouldn’t be effective. Instead, we identified very local outlets — Facebook groups, newsletters, magazines, radio stations—and ways to introduce ourselves personally. Effective tactics included handing out business cards, building connections to local pubs and shops, and COVID compliant hand-delivery of every loaf we sold. The key learning here was that to create an effective marketing ethos, we had to be visible, put ourselves in our audiences’ shoes and amplify our product and brand messages in the media they consumed.

Amplifying with social media

When it comes to social media, it’s imperative to be intentional. Each platform attracts a distinct set of users who engage with content in different ways. Through research, we noticed our region was very active on local Facebook groups, and that other businesses seemed to be finding success advertising on them. Creating effective social media posts was also a new challenge – as a humanities student, the writing I do takes a position, supports an argument, and tends to be lengthy. A character limit, however, forced me to find comforting language, grab attention and be succinct. Understanding the ever-evolving environment of social media and how to leverage it to expand the reach and improve brand recognition is an essential tool for the modern PR professional.

Mastering earned media

Growing our brand through regional media outlets was essential to our success. We learned how to identify the opportunities that would be most effective, write press releases that communicated our message, and present ourselves clearly in interviews. Through trial and error, we figured out how to avoid rambling, speak more slowly and keep our messaging crisp and unambiguous.

Being a team player

The two of us were the chefs, management, communications, and operations teams. Anything that arose (besides our bread) needed to be addressed by one or both of us. Approaching these challenges swiftly and productively forced us to recognise our strengths as individuals to function as a better team. Understanding one’s own abilities, interests and passions make you a better team player and leader.

Being an entrepreneur provided me with a strong foundation for PR. Drawing on key learnings from other experiences, even if they seem unrelated to communications can be an excellent way to navigate your early PR career.

New to PR?  What experiences helped you find your feet in your early days?

Jack Jacob is a third-year Masters of Liberal Arts student at the University of Bristol. He joined Ruder Finn as a summer intern in June 2021.