By Jennifer Lawhead
Jennifer Stevens built her company, JHL, around her own credibility and reputation. Jennifer was the brand.
Her public relations client list grew as she landed high-value media placements on behalf of her clientele over and over again. As she began planning more events, Jennifer quickly became Austin’s go-to event planner, overseeing some of the community’s biggest fundraisers and galas today. When her clients needed to increase their visual presence among their audience, Jennifer built a promotional product business to complement her public relations and event planning services.
But as with any growing company that starts off with one foundational go-getter like Jennifer, it became more difficult to brand her businesses with a bigger team. As she began to hire each new team member, Jennifer noticed that talking about her brand was becoming cumbersome for her team to speak to, especially when she wasn’t in the room.
“We were overcomplicating it,” Jennifer said. “What we needed to do was step back and develop language that everyone could use on a consistent basis.”
In essence, JHL Company needed to evolve its brand. While the brand was based and built on Jennifer’s name, the team needed to find language that also supported the organization as a whole. JHL hired Root + River to create a new branding era for JHL that could expand and resonate with others as her team rapidly grew.
It paid off. Together, Jennifer and Root + River landed on the Root Belief: We believe when it’s about you, you lose.
This message paved the way for the JHL team to immediately speak to how they practice this belief, which is to help in high trust situations involving new world stakes, and requiring a focused strategy delivered with unilateral precision. They also articulated and defined for the organization core beliefs and standards — “I trust this person to lift boxes with me at 2 a.m.” being one example — which are used throughout JHL today.
When a new team member is hired, the JHL brand is at the forefront of hiring. No one finishes onboarding without understanding JHL’s beliefs, core messages, standards and story. This gives new team members the opportunity to learn the language so they adopt it into their own practices as an employee, speak about it confidently to clients and prospects, and use it to carry the JHL brand forward.
Every three months, the team sits down to re-evaluate the language. “Do we like it? Does it still resonate with who we are? Does it help tell our story?” The answer is always yes.
The biggest test to the brand came earlier this year at the beginning of COVID-19. Being a company heavily reliant on event planning, one of JHL’s biggest fundraising celebrity-hosted events of the year was in April 2020. With only a few weeks and no rulebook yet of how to pivot to an online event (remember, this is April 2020), Jennifer and her team got to work to tackle something they’ve never done before. However, because it was for charity and in collaboration for a good cause, JHL knew they had to take on this challenge. Working ‘round the clock leading up to April 23, the fundraiser “went off literally without a hitch” and raised an unexpected $2 million for the charity.
It was a lift-boxes-with-me-at-2 a.m. moment for the team. And it’s a testament to how the Root Belief — We believe when it’s about you, you lose — came to life.